Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Huffman Bicycles -- Deep Deep Background

Davis Sewing Machine.
The Davis Sewing Machine Company apparently branched out into bicycles in 1892, making a series of bikes branded "Dayton" (named for the home of the enterprise) over the following decades.  Those included your traditional upright moustache handlebar jobbies as well as a 1904-vintage track bike that looks rather aggressive.

The company owner and project manager (according to one report)?  George P. Huffman.*  According to Dayton historian Augustus Waldo Drury, George's older brother Frank T. Huffman was also involved with the Davis Sewing Machine Company, becoming its treasurer, VP and general manager, and ultimately president in the years leading up to and after George P.'s death.  (No source that I have yet seen credits Frank T. with involvement in the company's branching out in to bicycles.  Frank T. also ran the Huffman Publishing Company in the early 1890s.)  Howard Burba wrote an article in 1932, "When Davis Came to Dayton," that details the Huffman brothers' leadership of the Davis Sewing Machine Company.  The article recounts the transition from sewing machines to bicycles:

By 1895 the bicycle craze had reached its height in this country, so the machinery of the Davis plant was partially converted to the manufacture of the famous old “Dayton” bicycle.  Within a short time, so popular had this model become, the company was called upon to supply the wheels to a number of the country’s largest mail-order houses, and at one time, when production was a its height, more than 20 different name plates were used on the wheels turned out by this plant.  All, however, were the same models, merely marketed under the name plate selected by each wholesaler or jobber, or mail order concern, to the trade.
     By 1905 the Davis was producing 600 sewing machines and 600 bicycles every working day, and giving employment to more than 2000 men and women six days a week.  This steady and substantial payroll served for years to add much to the prosperity of the city generally, and stood the community in good stead at a time when the car works were disintegrating and there was a constant dwindling of labor forces there.

This looks very much like the old Dayton bicycle.
George P. Huffman

According to an 1889 History of Dayton Ohio:

GEORGE P. HUFFMAN, son of William P. Huffman, was born September 6, 1862, at Dayton. His English and classical education was obtained at the Cooper Academy, in which he spent eleven years. He then studied law in the office of Gunckel & Rowe from the same motive with which his father had pursued the same course, a more certainly successful business career, and with the same object in view engaged in banking for six months. For some five years subsequently he was engaged in the real estate business, and in 1887 he purchased the Kratochwill Flouring Mills, and almost immediately afterward procured the incorporation of the Kratochwill Milling Company, and became its president. This position he still retains, and is also president of the National Improvement Company, recently organized; of the Monitor Publishing Company, and of the Miami Valley Elevator Company; vice-president of the Crume & Sefton Manufacturing Company, treasurer of the Cooper hydraulic Company, director in the Third National Bank, in the Homestead Aid Association, in the Consolidated Coal and Coke Company of Cincinnati, of the Young Men's Christian Association, and is a deacon in the Linden Avenue Baptist Church. Mr. Huffman was married October 30, 1884, to Miss Maude C. McKee. They have two children, Horace and George P., Jr.

Note that in 1889 Huffman's company was not yet producing bicycles, so it is no surprise that the sketch does not mention it. I am also intrigued to see that there was a second George P.  His name does not appear in Huffman Manufacturing Company or Huffy Corp. information (based on my search so far).

Like his father William P., George P. was a lawyer, though he did not practice law.

[Somewhat amusingly, Henry M. Schmuck -- no, that's not a typo -- sued Crume & Sefton Mfg. Co. with regard to a pledge of $7500 in shares of stock made by George P. Sr. in the early 1890s.  No reason to believe this was related to the roll-out of the Dayton bicycles beginning in 1892, but it's a possibility, so I record it here.  See Schmuck v. Crume & Sefton Mfg. Co., Mongtomery Common Pleas (Snediker, J., 1905), aff'd, Oh. S. Ct., 78 Ohio St. 409.  Schmuck lost.]

George P. Huffman died not long after, in 1897 at the young age of 35.  He is buried in Dayton.

Horace M. Huffman Senior

In 1925, Horace M. Huffman started making steel bike rims with his new company, Huffman Manufacturing Company.  (Another site reports differently:  Huffman Mfg. was founded in 1924 to make "service station parts", turning in 1934 to the manufacture of bicycles.  Yet another says incorporated 1928, bicycle manufacture started 1934.  Bloomberg reports 1924.  Must nail down, including the link to the original Dayton Bicycles manufactured by Davis Sewing Machine Company.  Bicycle Bill has this page with photos of bicycles labeled "Dayton/Huffman," suggesting the Dayton brand was in use after Huffman Manufacturing had already turned to bikes in the 1930s.)

Horace was George P.'s son.  He attended Dennison University in the first decade of the 20th century and was a Sigma Chi.  He lived from 1885 through the end of World War II, apparently spending nearly all of his life in Dayton.  He died of a heart attack in 1945.  He is also buried at the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.  Horace's mother (George's wife) was Maude McKee Huffman.  Horace married Mary Reynolds and had a son named Horace M. Junior.

Horace M. Huffman's gravestone.  Credit:  Helen L. Smith Hoke,
Horace M. Huffman Junior

Horace M. Junior ran the Huffman Mfg. Co. after his father.  He died in 1996 at age 72, apparently of a heart attack (a disturbing trend) in Baltimore on November 21, 1996.  (This was same day as the funeral of his son Michael Gordon Huffman St., who died at age 48.  One site reports that Horace M. also had a son named Tony.)  

Howie Cohen of Everything Bicycles reports that Horace M. Jr. was first elected Vice President and General Manager of Huffman Mfg. Co. in 1941.  At some point during Horace M. Junior's period of control, Huffman Manufacturing adopted the hugely unfortunate name "Huffy," which had begun as an advertising slogan.  The company history page suggests this name change may have occurred in 1949.  Another source reports the company name change did not occur until 1977.  (This latter source finds its information on  One report indicates "Huffy" began as a nickname of Horace M., although his nickname has also been given as "Huff."   His grandkids apparently called him "Chief."  Here is a Flickr photo of a sidewalk memorial to Horace M. Jr.

Horace M. Jr. was an avid cyclist, reportedly biking to work in the 1930s and co-founding the Dayton Bicycle Club in 1961 with Claire Duckham.  He served as the club's first president.  The Dayton Bicycle Club was originally a racing club.  Horace M. then "formed and founded the Greater Dayton Bikeway Committee, later known as the Miami Valley Regional Bicycle Council"; that entity pushed through plans for bike trails in the Dayton area.  One such trail, along the Great Miami and Stillwater Rivers, is named for him.  Horace M. also reportedly pushed bike trails in Michigan, his summer spot.  Horace M. was a bicycle journalist, founding the Ohio Bicycle Communicator.  He was involved with the Watershed Council in northern Michigan.  His philanthropy extended to his winter home in Delray Florida as well, where he is reported to have served as a director of a chemical dependency recovery foundation.**

Picture of Horace M. Huffman Jr., Huffy Corp. Chairman (until 1984) and CEO (until 1973).  Credit:  Steven Tynan,

Bikes Under Horace M. Junior

One brief history reports that early in the Huffman Mfg. Co.'s bicycle manufacturing history, it contracted with Firestone to make bicycles that could use Firestone tires.  Talk about reversing the usual chain of production!  It also sold as many as 4000 bicycles to the U.S. Army for use in World War II.

This beauty is called a "Dayton Huffman Twinflex":

1939 bike.  Below patent technologies obviously in use.
Lots of research to do on Huffman Mfg. Co. bicycle patents and models, but the below were easy finds on Google.  Horace M. Jr. was the patentee on a "combined bicycle tank and frame," patent filed Dec. 28, 1939.  Here is the schematic:

Combined bicycle tank & frame.  Anticipating Pee Wee Herman, methinks.
I'm no patent lawyer, but isn't there something about "science and useful arts" in the Patent Clause to the Constitution?  (Yes, there is.  I gather this wasn't litigated.)

Another one:  a "chain guard for bicycles," patent filed on July 5, 1940.

Chain guard,  That is artistic!
And this August 14, 1937 filing with co-inventor John H. Horstman:  a design for the balloon tire bomber perhaps not unlike the one Dad used to describe riding as a kid.

"Design for a bicycle."

Huffman Mfg. Co. and Huffy Corp.

According to, Frederick Smith was named President and CEO in 1962 and Horace Huffman Jr. was named Chairman.  That is inconsistent with the 1996 Baltimore Sun obituary that has Horace Huffman Jr. serving as CEO until 1973.  (One is inclined to believe the company history over the obit, but further research is necessary.)  The company went public in 1968 on the American Stock Exchange.  According to a SEC news digest from the day:

The company is a manufacturer of all principal types of children's and adults' bicycles, and a line of
outdoor power equipment for care of lawns and gardens; it also is a producer of gasoline containers used by retail consumers, and of small service equipment used in garages and service stations. Of the net proceeds of its sale of additional stock and of insurance company loans of $2,800,000, the company will use about $3,000,000 to acquire production equipment for new and expanded plant facilities as well as to modernize Certain presently existing production facilities and equipment, and about $1,000,000 to purchase tools and dies .primarily to reduce the amount of fabrication presently subcontracted out for many of the company's products. The balance of the proceeds will be used to reduce short term borrowings and for other general corporate purposes.

Smith's term as president ended in 1972, replaced by Stuart Northrop, formerly of Singer Sewing Machines.  (What is this sewing machine-bicycle connection, anyway?)  During this period, Huffman Mfg. was highly diversified, making auto parts, lawnmowers, and other sports equipment.  Bicycles had by the 1970s become the vast majority of its business.  In 1977 the company became Huffy Corp.  In 1982, Harry Shaw III became CEO and helped Huffy through the Reagan recession by cutting costs and streamlining manufacturing processes.

In the 1980s Huffy had a short stint as a custom frame maker under license with Raleigh USA.  A Raleigh bike made between 1982 and 1988 may well be a Huffman Mfg. Co. product.

Here's another timeline history of Huffy/Huffman bikes, with an emphasis on its BMX offerings.

Huffy Corp. went bankrupt in 2003 or 2004, apparently following the announcement of financial irregularities.  Good to know it was not immune from the epidemic of the times!  It emerged from bankruptcy as a private company and still exists. 

Tracking Down Other Huffman Executives 

At one point Robert R. (Bob) Huffman may also have been an executive with Huffman Mfg. Co. or Huffy Corp.  He is described by this site as the fifth generation of Huffman in the business, suggesting that he may have followed Horace M. Jr., although that is not at all clear.  (If I have found the right Robert R., he appears to have been a younger brother of Horace M. Junior, born in 1935 and died in 2013. His obituary may have been published in San Diego, California.  Census records from 1940 find one Robert R. of about that age, but he lived in 1940 in Muskingum County, Ohio, not the family seat of the Huffman Mfg. Huffmans, and not a wealthy community, belying any relationship to the wealthy Dayton Huffmans.  An alternative is that the report is incorrect.  There was a Robert R. (Bob) Wieland employed by Huffy in the '90s.  (This would be good to nail down.)

William A. Huffman may be "Tony," the son of Horace M. Jr., and brother of Michael Gordon Huffman Senior.  He was appointed Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Huffman Manufacturing in 1994, having been working for the company since 1975.

W. Anthony Huffman is apparently a member of the board of the current, privately held, Huffy Corp.  He has been a director since 1997, when he retired from employment with the company.


*According to the 1880 census, George P. was the son of William P. Huffman and Anna M. Huffman, and lived in the same household as apparent siblings with Anna and Torrence Huffman.  William P. was a banker.  The family had a servant named Ella Batt.  (Ancestry cataloged in order to find possible family connections between the Ralph L. Huffman line and the George P. Huffman line, though largely unrelated to the bicycle business.) 

There was also a Charles Huffman somewhere in the mix.  This family history website indicates William P. built Charles a home in 1869 at 49 Linden Avenue, although Charles' place in the family is not indicated.  Charles may have been an older son who was no longer living at home at the time of the 1880 census, linked immediately above.  On the other hand, the Charles who is listed as a son of William P. died as a child, according to the Drury book.

This website has some basic family tree information and gravesite photos from the Woodland Cemetery.  From it I learned that there was a George P. III, born 1941 and, like his grandfather George P. Sr., died at a young age (in 1971).  Must be the weak Huffman family coronary system!

William P. (again, father of George P., the first Huffman bicycle maker), was a man of some note in the Dayton community.  He donated the land for the Linden Avenue Baptist Church, (an interesting comparison to Ralph L. and Dale Huffman and family's being instrumental in the building of the Baptist Church in Marysville Kansas).  He also donated the land for the Huffman School at 100 Huffman Avenue, the oldest elementary school in Dayton.  

This book by Augustus Waldo Drury contains a fair write-up on him.

More to this end, a quote about the family history from the 1889 Dayton History volume:

WILLIAM P. HUFFMAN was a native of Dayton, having been born here October 18, 1813. His grandfather, William, was of German descent, and his grandmother of English descent. They came to the United States from Holland, somewhere between 1730 and 1740, and settled in Monmouth CountyNew Jersey, where William Huffman, their son, was born, May 24, 1769. William Huffman was married June 14, 1801, to Miss Lydia Knott, who was also a native of Monmouth CountyNew Jersey, having been born there January 19, 1779. Mr. and Mrs. Huffman had five children, one son and four daughters, the son being William P. Huffman, the subject of this sketch. Mrs. Huffman died March 21, 1865, and Mr. Huffman. January 23, 1866. They had settled in Dayton several years before the birth of their son, William P. Huffman, to whom they gave a good English education. After completing this English course of study, Mr. Huffman read law with Warren Munger, Sr., not, however, with the view of adopting the law as a profession, but as a means of being more thoroughly equipped for a successful business career. Early in 1837 he left the city and spent ten years in farming. At the close of this period, in the spring of 1848, he left the farm and was for the remainder of his life engaged in the banking, real estate business, and in extensive building operations. Among the local enterprises with which he was prominently connected were the Third Street Railway, Dayton and Springfield Turnpike, Cooper Hydraulic, and the Second National Bank. Of this bank he was one of the organizers and was afterward its president, as appears in the chapter on banking. Politically, Mr. Huffman was a War Democrat, but was not a strict partisan, principles being of more concern to him than any party. He was connected with the First Baptist Church until 1878, when he became a constituent member of the Linden Avenue Baptist Church. He was a trustee of Dennison University from 1867 until his death, which occurred July 2, 1888.
            Mr. Huffman was of clear and sound judgment, careful and reliable in business transactions. He was of sterling integrity and of moral worth. His influence was widely recognized in molding the Christian sentiment of the community and in forming a correct public opinion as to the value of morality and honesty in all dealings with our fellow man. Mr. and Mrs. Huffman were the parents of ten children, as follows: William Huffman, extensive stone dealer, of Dayton; Martha Belle, wife of E. J. Barney, of Dayton; Lydia H., wife of James R. Hedges,- of New York City; Charles T., who died at the age of thirty-four; Lizzie H., wife of Charles E. Drury, cashier of the Third National Bank; Samuel, who died in infancy; Torrence, vice-president of the Fourth National Bank (page 697) and president of the Union Safe Deposit and Trust Company; Frank T., county treasurer; George P., a sketch of whom is added hereto; and Anna M., unmarried and living at home.

William II -- the son of William the German immigrant and the father of William P. Huffman -- apparently landed in Dayton in 1812 with a large wad of cash, by one report $10,000, and bought up a bunch of land.  

This "Social Register" from 1920 contains a list of the descendants of William P. Huffman living in the Dayton and Cincinnati area at that time.

One great-great granddaughter of George P. Huffman is Alexandra Ollinger, a financial planner living in Cincinnati.  She is a Tuck graduate of about the right age to know Tuck graduate S__ Huffman.

A Frank T. Huffman and a John M. Huffman incorporated Huffman Co. in Dayton in 1935, capitalized at $150,000, according to the Secretary of State Reports from that year.  No indication yet that this corporation has anything to do with Huffman Mfg. Co.

**Horace M. Jr. was otherwise a noted conservationist as well.  According to a site cataloging the "History of the Little Traverse Conservancy," discussing upstate Michigan:

With each passing year, LTC grew in membership, staffing, and know-how, as well as increasing the number of its nature preserves and land protection programs. LTC produced its first annual report in 1980. In 1981 it developed the "Friends of the Little Traverse Conservancy" fundraising program, under the strong leadership and tireless efforts of Horace "Huffy" Huffman, an influential leader in numerous areas of the organization for many years.

Huffman was the son of the founder of the bicycle company Huffy Corporation and its CEO before taking early retirement and becoming active in the Little Traverse Conservancy. A Trustee as early as 1972, he served in many different capacities, including vice-president for Membership, in charge of the Friends of the Little Traverse Conservancy Fundraising Program; chairman of the Land Acquisition Program; secretary of the Executive Committee from 1984 to 1987; and chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee. Huffman was responsible for shaping LTC's organizational structure early on and was so personally involved in the fundraising process that he eventually felt the need to train others in this area so that LTC would not become too dependent on any one individual. He also served as a mentor to the executive directors, particularly Tom Bailey.

* * *

1987 was significant for the foundation of the Business Advisory Committee, which provided a two-way channel of communication between area businesses and the Conservancy and encouraged formal participation by businesses in LTC's conservation efforts. Also in this year, the North Point Preservation Project began. This project's goal was to preserve twenty-eight acres of sand dunes and 2,800 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline in Charlevoix Township. In addition, Huffman retired from his leadership positions in all areas, except for his trusteeship and his chairmanship of the Building and Grounds Committee.

Huffman and his committee undertook a major office and grounds improvement project (his pet project; LTC's office building was later known as "the house that Huffy built") beginning in 1988. The Conservancy launched a new State-Local Government Cooperation program in order to help local units of government with the purchase and planning of land for public parks. It also started a scholarship program, named the Woodbury Ransom Memorial Scholarship in Environmental Studies, at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. It was funded through the contribution of an LTC member

* * *

A great blow was dealt to everyone at LTC, professionally and personally, when Horace Huffman died of a heart attack in late November of 1996. The Little Traverse Conservancy carried on, however, and maintains its emphasis on conservation through acquisition of land rather than legal confrontation or political maneuvering.


sam said...

Remarkable bit of detective work. More remarkable even, given the apparent long history of Huffmans in the cycle trade, that we were able to secure this domain name.

I would pay a fair sum for an original Huffman frame.

Max said...

There are some on eBay. I'm keeping my eyes open. Would make cool artwork mounted high on the wall under a vaulted ceiling!