Legendary leader Schwinn Bicycles

By Caryl Clem:

The bicycle fever started in France and England before the United States.  The wealthy rode the Penny Farthing, a high wheeler with wooden wheels like a carriage. Bicycles had a nickname, “Boneshakers”.  “In the case of the former, the animal has to be broken before it can be ridden, while with the latter it is the rider who must undergo the breaking process.” quote from an 1869 Scientific American.

By the late 1860’s the Penny Farthing was favored by acrobats and clowns performing tricks at the circus.  Several Safety style bikes were designed with two wheels lower to the ground with pedals.  A French mechanic mass produced this popular style bicycle.  One of the Safety bike designs was sold in 1868 to an American.

Ignaz Schwinn was born in 1860 in Germany where he apprenticed in several bicycle shops. He had a dream to start his own bicycle company in America, land of industrial strength. He arrived in America in 1891 and was working in a bicycle place in Chicago by 1895. He met his financial backer Adolf Arnold whose partnership enabled opening “The World” Bicycle Company. Schwinn bicycles proudly boasted paramount performance and distinctive design. The professional Afro-American cyclist Major Thomas claims the world championship in 1896 pedaling a Schwinn to victory.  

In the early 1900’s, Schwinn bikes are included in the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog.  In 1914, Schwinn is reported to be the biggest bicycle manufacturer in the world.  The Schwinn Quality seal is attached in 1930.  Senior Schwinn regularly visited his factories. Still standing today, former Schwinn factory located at 1856 N. Kostner. 

Schwinn sales and services are managed by dealerships in the late 1940’s such as Barnyards or Chicago Cycle Company.  Frank was just as innovative as his father developing 40 patents.  Schwinn was a frontrunner, continually introducing the latest fashionable bicycle. Ongoing research dedicated to improving bicycles function featured design innovations of mudguards, the cycle lock, the Fore-wheel brake, Cantilever Frame, and the “Spring Fork.”  All the popular models Schwinn Panther, Autocycle, Hollywood, and Starlet bicycles mirrored the latest automobile trends during the 1950’s with chrome fenders, whitewall tires, tail lights and horn.  Hollywood stars appear in the Schwinn 1955 catalog.  

In 1963 the Schwinn;’ famous Sting Ray with high rise handle bars , banana seat, stick shift  and the thin slick racing tires quickly dominate the market. Schwinn averages 1 million bicycles daily worldwide in the 1960’s. BMX is the next success story. Schwinn had expanded kids and adult bike use. After 40 patents, Schwinn’s son died when he was 48 in 1972. The next successor inspired a major labor strike that crippled the company in 1980.  Schwinn was sold in 1982.

Schwinn’s new owner started selling at chain stores in 2002.  Schwinn bikes are still evolving, the lightweight mountain bikes, the recycle materials bike Vestige and the electric bike in 2019.  Schwinn and Together We Rise support children in foster care. Vintage Schwinn bikes can be found at Barnards in Oak Park.

The New Colony Six

After receiving a video from my love a few months ago, the song and photos intrigued my writing interests. I Will Always Think About You. The video link is highlighted a few sentences below; real people in love during the 60’s and 70’s. Everyone looked familiar. I wore those shoes, used the same barrettes in the same place on my hair and used that same pay phone. I wore a dress just like that and the same make-up. He and I had the same car. He had a college jacket with the same letter L for Loyola? We all looked young and beautiful; in our own special, distinctive way many decades ago. And I cry when I watch and listen every time. I wonder how the lives in that video have transformed. Our they here today; healthy and in love? The song reached the Billboard’s top 40 on May 11,1968 presented by a young, Chicago band, The New Colony Six.

My significant other actually played with the band when then needed a substitute drummer since he played with many including the Association. Back in the day, he become young friends with Ronnie Rice (vocals, keyboards, guitar) who replaced Craig Hemp and this song becoming one of Rice’s hit singles. Formed in Chicago, the group had ten top singles that hit the charts between 1966 and 1971. That song actually hit the local airwaves in 1965 and was listed 14 times on the national charts. Things I’d Like to Say was another popular song released in 1968 on their album Revelations and as a single. Original members were Ray Graffia (vocals),Chick James (drums), Pat McBride (harmonica), Craig Kemp (organ), Wally Kemp (bass), and Gerry Van Kollenburg (guitar).

Ronnie Rice has played the guitar since he was 16 years old and he began his musical career as a solo performer in Evanston, Illinois. In the mid-seventies, he developed his own rock and roll classics still attending hundreds of concerts throughout the United States. Ronnie has played with other bands including The Buckinghams, The Ides of March, The Cryin’ Shames and The Shadows of Knight.

The New Colony Six performed at a 1987 Reunion show at Chicago’s Park West the “Colony” has been one of the nations favorite acts at a variety of events as well as those GREAT SUMMER FESTS ever since. Today, Ray Graffia stills play along with Bruce Mattey / Vocal & Guitar RickBarr Drums Gary Greenman / Keyboards Bill Szostek /Bass & Vocal Greg Favata / Guitar & Vocal.

My beginnings with Drury Lane in Evergreen Park

My first trip to see the play, A Christmas Carol, was in April… not the holidays.  It was hosted at Drury Lane Theater in Evergreen Park in 1965 and I sat through a 2 1/2 hour show with a broken arm. I tripped on a dimly lit step, heading to our seats during an afternoon matinee for my best friend’s birthday party.  Unfortunately, the details of the performance are vague since I was focused on not moving my arm to avoid massive pain. That night, I was hospitalized at South Chicago Hospital which was the way of doing things back then and the arm was operated on the next day. A settlement had followed…Drury Lane had paid for my recovery. My Mom was embarrassed receiving 1,500 dollars but from what she was told, DeSantis did not like anything happen to his customers especially children.

The Drury Lane Theatres were a group of theatres in the Chicago area founded by Tony DeSantis. The playhouses were named after the historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane, built in London in the 17th century.

DeSantis opened the Martinique Restaurant in Evergreen Park which was highly acclaimed restaurant and began producing plays in 1949 in a tent adjacent to the restaurant to attract customers. The enterprise was successful, prompting him to build his first theatre. He opened the theatre in 1958. And it was in the 1970’s that Drury Lane really took off.

The next Drury Lane theatre in the round that I attended was a play at McCormick place in the 1970’s and only stayed open a year. The next Drury Lane was at Water Tower Place that opened in 1976 but closed in 1984, however, re-opened more beautiful than before in 2004. Finally, Broadway Playhouse bought theatre in 2010 and still remains today.

My next Drury Lane trip took place in the late 1970’s at Drury Lane North but it quickly became the Marriott in Lincolnshire which I enjoyed over the years while living in Gurnee. Since 1975, the Marriott has presented more than 135 productions to an estimated 7 million people, and have received a record 370 Joseph Jefferson Award.

Finally, moving to Downers Grove in 1988s, I finally became introduced to the Drury Lane in Oakbrook that opened in 1984 and continue to provide world-class theatre productions. It was here that I did not trip but saw a friend who played Harold Hill in the infamous Music Man but Sunday Brunch was a favorite and has been in existence for over 30 years. I also went to college with the Managing Director for three years.

Two Chicago commuters create Tinkertoys

By Caryl Clem:

Conversations about the lack of job satisfaction formed an unlikely friendship between a tombstone engraver and a young grain stock broker Chicago commuters on their ride home to Evanston.  Charles Pajeau had graduated from Chicago’s Harvard Boys School taking engineering classes. He dreamed of entering the toy market. 

Charles Pajeau observed children playing daily with wooden spools that had holes placing various size sticks  and pencils to create objects while Robert Pettit had noticed wealthy children  quickly becoming bored with toys.  Pajeau invented rounded wooden circles with 45 degree angle holes on the sides and one on top. This design allowed endless possibilities to place sticks to create right triangles as a base for construction. In 1914 the two men blended their resources to open Toy Tinkers Inc.  located in Pajeaus basement at 325 Greenwood Avenue Evanston.

The toy was packaged in a tin can sitting on shelves at cigar stores and newsstands that first Christmas in 1914.  The sales the first Christmas were less than promising. Chicago area retail stores thought the tin can packaging was not worthy of elaborate window displays Pajeau tried to start. Eager to expand his market, Pajeau traveled to New York to advertise in a window display.  Key traffic areas in New York on 34th and Broadway, Grand Central Station and Macy have promoted this educational toy to inspire future builders of America. A showroom featured Tinkertoys at 200 Fifth Avenue. The production by 1915 was 900,000 sets.

Advertising exposure with product expansion, adding an electric motor, rustic Lincoln Log sets appeared Erector sets increase building designs meant total sales soared to over 6 million during the 1919 Christmas season.  By 1947, Tinker toys made Illinois the third biggest state in toy manufacturing. Pajeau served his employees coffee, lunch, and built exercise facilities. In 1964 the Charles H. and Grace F.  Pajeau Children’s Foundation was begun to raise money for underprivileged and needy children. 

The pure joy to see a creation you built is ageless.  I had a Lincoln Log set I inherited from my older brother. On days I needed to feel like I could conquer the world, I would empty the can on the floor. Time passed while I imagined building the first homestead with a relative.  Proof of a successful venture took shape in my hands. By dinnertime, I went downstairs with more confidence to face the world.  Research has shown that Tinker toys play a critical role for the brain to form spatial relationships and has been used in studies to build team management skills

Sales remain strong in company that has changed ownership 6 times; the current owner is Hasbro Corp. of Central Falls, R.I.   The 100 plus year company has an exhibit, the “Toys of Yesteryear” at the Lakeside Historical Society.    Information about what the “tinker men” created in Evanston can be found at Evanston Historical Society.  The Chicago Museum collection includes Tinker toys. Tinker toy is a member of the National Toy Hall of Fame.  A toy encouraging creative building will never be obsolete.