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Development of an industry

There used to be about 50 true bicycle factories and thousands of bicycle brands in the Netherlands. Nowadays only a few of them remain. Those who survived knew to acquire themselves a respectable position, especially on the home market.


The early years

The history of the Dutch bicycle industry from 1869 until today is as vicissitudinous as the past 130 years were in general. Two pioneers of this development were J.T. Scholte who was one of the first, or maybe the first to set up a bicycle trading business in Amsterdam, and Scholte's agent H.H. Timmer. Timmer began selling and renting bicycles in 1869. He also founded the first cyclists' riding school in the Netherlands. Timmer probably initialised the foundation of the first Dutch bicycle works by selling a velocipede to Henricus Burgers, a smith from Deventer. Burgers then went on to produce his own bicycles in 1869, thus becoming the father of the Dutch bicycle industry.


This was a remarkable step, as it took some 15 to 20 years before other large bicycle works were founded in Holland. At that time the invention and development of the bicycle by mainly English inventors was virtually complete. Some of the new Dutch manufacturers didn't only produce their own bicycles but also kept the sales representation of an English brand. The English bicycle industry had the strongest international market position, while the young Dutch brands had not yet established a reputation.

     In the beginning it was usually small blacksmiths and metal industries that started making bicycles. In contrast, the pioneers in Germany and England were often sewing machine factories. Later on bicycle repairmen and wholesale dealers switched from bike assembly to bicycle manufacturing on a reasonably large scale.

 

Dunlop advertising sign

 

In the 1890's the Dutch bicycle industry grew rapidly. On December 17th 1893 the Association of Dutch Bicycle Manufacturers was founded in Utrecht. When car manufacturers joined the association - or bicycle manufacturers became car manufacturers - it was renamed to "De Rijwiel- en Automobiel-Industrie" (RAI) in 1900.

     Due to technical improvements bicycles became more and more popular at the end of the 19th century. Despite economic problems in Holland, 1893 and 1895 were excellent years for the Dutch bicycle industry. In 1896 companies like Simplex, Fongers and Burgers reacted with substantial expansions of their bicycle works. However, imports still remained the most important factor in meeting the demands of the Dutch market.

     Prices began to decrease due to batch production and an oversupply of bicycles from America. Whereas initially bikes were largely used for sport and recreation, now that bicycles were becoming more affordable they rapidly gained in popularity with the common folk as a standard means of transport. Tax data from that period shows that the number of bicycles in the Netherlands doubled between 1899 and 1903 to 187,839. In the early years of the 20th century bicycle trading was a prosperous business, and every year about 40,000 to 50,000 more bikes appeared on Dutch streets. In 1912 a total number of 646,925 bicycles was reached (along with 4,000 motorbikes and 3,250 cars). Export to European and non-European countries increased as well.

Gazelle quadruplette

 

Between the two world wars
 
Solar bicycle lighting
Solar bicycle lamp -
" Often copied! Never equalled!"


Despite its neutrality, the first world war caused economic problems to the Netherlands. Stagnating rubber supply from the Dutch colony Indonesia soon lead to a prohibition of cycle tyre exports. Particularly from 1917 onwards international trade became badly affected and raw materials for production became very rare.

     At the bottom of a price list of the Gruno brand from May 1919 there is still noted: "The above prices don't include tyres." One year later, the same company proudly mentions at the top of its price list: "Bicycles with tyres."

 

The end of the war on November the 11th, 1918 was a great relief. But soon Dutch bicycle companies had a new problem to face: their German competitors began selling very low priced bicycles on a large scale in Holland because the German mark had devaluated and Dutch guilders were therefore sought-after.

 

Bato bicycles

 

But nevertheless the Dutch bicycle industry flourished in the post war years. According to tax data, in 1919 there were 861,500 bicycles in Holland while this number increased up to 1,756,738 in 1924.

     The annual reports of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the years 1922 to 1926 show quite negative expectations about crisis and strong international competition, especially for the bicycle industry. But in 1927 times changed again with some more good years ahead.

     The twenties and thirties were apparently a very unstable period. The economic recession coming from America in 1929, gradually affected European countries as well, causing a downturn in Dutch bicycle production from that year on. The production increased again after 1934, but consumers still didn't have much to spend. Therefore bikes from the beginning of the thirties are often of lower quality. The crisis didn't end until the year 1936. By 1939 the total number of bicycles reached 3,300,000.

 

During the war bicycle production in the Netherlands decreased considerably. Spare parts became increasingly difficult to obtain. In 1941 a great shortage of bike-tyres began. In this period many bicycle parts became increasingly scare and more and more alternative and innovative 'crisis products' were produced such as wooden tyres, grips, pedal blocks, carbide lamps and protective shields for bike lamps. During the last years of the war many machines from bicycle factories were demolished or disassembled by the occupying German forces and transported to Germany.

     After the war it remained difficult to get bicycles and spare parts. Nevertheless the well-known bicycle manufacturers soon started making bicycles again. In order to meet the large demand, parts and bikes were imported in bulk from England, Canada and the USA and often fitted with own transfers.

 

Beckson advertisement

Post-war back-pedal brake hub of Dutch manufacture

 

 

Copyright by Herbert Kuner, 1999 ...
All rights reserved.

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Last update: 29/03/04