Western Wheel Works

134 W Schiller St Chicago

Design Museum of Chicago
Written By Design Museum of Chicago

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After the Western Toy Company was destroyed in the Chicago Fire in 1871, Alfred Schoeninger reinvented his business as Western Wheel Works, manufacturing bicycles. Located on this site, Western Wheel quickly became the largest bicycle factory in the country, producing more than 70,000 bikes in 1896. They shipped their popular bicycles, the Crescent, Rob Roy, and Juno around the country in dedicated train cars as well as around the world. Western was the first American factory to stamp parts on a large scale.

Already happening in Germany, stamping is exactly what it sounds like – rather than forging metal parts which is time consuming and labor heavy, Western stamped certain parts out of large sheets of metal. The tradeoff in time and labor far outweighed the minor differences in durability provided by forging.

Stamping allowed Western bicycles to have more uniform parts and to cut down on production time and costs, which increased their production and contributed greatly to their size and success.

Western's stamping process also was a proof of concept for other factories to integrate stamping on a large scale into their production. Stamping was particularly effective for parts in chains and conveyor belts. Once those materials could be manufactured in large quantities quickly and cheaply, it paved the way for moving assembly lines and more modern manufacturing methods.

After Western Wheel went out of business in the early 1900s, a podatrist name Dr. William Scholl bought the factory complex and manufactured Dr. Scholl's footwear there for 80 years. Today, the complex is Cobbler's Square, a mixed-use development.

Keep Moving: Designing Chicago's Cycling History

Western Wheel Works

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