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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Early Japanese Economics And The Bicycle

What a difference 10 or 11 years makes.

Let's take a look at Japan, bicycles and pumping up the economy. 

It might sound strange indeed, but one of the more important industries grown in Japan after the opening up of its borders (forced to by US gun-toting legitimate businessmen) for international trade, was the bicycle.

As I have covered HERE recently about Japan's interest in the bicycle, it was introduced by foreign interest, piqued thanks to a foreigner riding his bicycle around the world, and pushed ahead by numerous Japanese blacksmiths and other bicycle factories in Japan and the world.

The bicycles being ridden between the 1860s and 1895 were known as Ordinary bicycles, and were what we would call the Penny-Farthing bikes with one huge front wheel and one tiny small rear wheel.

How people rode those bicycles and didn't kill themselves or others is beyond me.

But… by 1896, the pneumatic tire had been invented and utilized in the bicycle industry and had allowed bicycles to be less tall and have wheels the same size giving us what we would recognize as a standard bicycle. 

And... with the new style of bicycle came a new industry for Japan to become involved in.

Thanks to the Newsbank/Readex database of Early American Newspapers (www.readex.com), I have a pair of newspaper articles, that I have re-typed... so hopefully I have done so without making any mistakes (I can't tgype... or spell, apparently). (Yes... that just really happened. You should also know that when I write 'the', it always comes out 'teh'. I know how to spell it, but my fingers can't finger it out.)

Article one, is from the October 16, 1896 edition of the Kansas City, Missouri newspaper, The Kansas City Star.

The Japan Bicycle Factories

P.H. Bernays, a member of the Oakland, Cal., bicycle club has just returned from Japan, and reports that while there he visited the bicycle factories which have been heralded as about to flood this country with $12 machines. He says that after careful search he found the total capacity to be less than 100 machines per year, and those of the crudest description, and only sold in the interior to persons not familiar with the development of the bicycle. The wheels are listed according to speeds, one represented as able to be driven at a rate of 12 miles an hour, being rated higher than one built to go only eight. He secured one of the steel balls used in the bearings, and found it to have been, to all appearances, made in a mould, and finished off with a file. A cigar box held the complete stock of balls of one factory.

Interesting... either American pride and prejudice is showing through in the above article, or Japanese manufacturing really wasn't inspiring confidence as something to be feared. 

Let's move ahead 11 years, and view the October 17, 1907 article from the The Evening News out of  San Jose, California.

More Bicycles Sold This Year

American Factories See The Methods Of Japan

Gains Noted in Bicycle Sales To Foreign Countries

One of the managers of a leading bicycle factory in the middle West, states that  in his opinion the season of 1907. large as it has been, will be eclipsed by the sales of next year. The manufacturer based his views on the very good ground that by the tenth of the present month he had booked more orders than were on his books at the end of December last year.
When the fact is recalled that the spring of 1907 was the most discouraging, in point of bad weather, that this country has seen in many years, and yet the actual sales of bicycles exceeded those of any season for seven years, it will be seen that the country is rapidly realizing that the country is rapidly realizing that the bicycle's popularity's already almost as great as it was in the so-called craze days.
Tire Factories In Japan
American bicycle tire factories are getting a taste of Japan's peculiar trade methods. As it is well know by many American manufacturers, the Japanese do not scruple to reproduce American patented articles, and anything that they can make over there, has so great an advantage in the cost of labor that the article is under a great handicap when it endeavors to compete with the Japanese-original-made imitations.
Japan, apparently, has made up her mind that the bicycle tire market is worth cultivating, both for the savings in home consumption, and in competing for trade in the other parts of the far East.
Tokio, therefore, has now three bicycle tire factories, at least one of which is making an exact copy of one of the best known and most popular of tires.
Increased DemandAmerican rubber factories, which have expected to see the automobile tire supplant the bicycle tire, to a large degree, have been much surprised during the last year, at the steadily increasing demand for bicycle tires. One of the leading companies is authority for the statement that the bicycle tire trade has shown a marked increase for every month since the early part of last winter, and also that during the beginning of the present riding season it had more orders for bicycle tires than it could conveniently fill.
America's Bicycle ExportsExports of American cycles and cycle parts, showed, in the aggregate, some reduction in the eight months ending August this year, as against the eight months ending with August in 1906. On the other hand, increased sales to certain foreign countries show that the balance of trade is running in America's favor in a number of countries.
The sales to France, for instance, which only amounted to $16,531 in 1906 eight months, climbed to $44,051 this year. Gains were also shown in the sales to the United Kingdom, Belgium, Cuba and the other West Indies, Brazil and British Australasia.

So... now Japan's products aren't so bad... but it does correctly take flack for a lack of respect of copyright laws.

Still... $12 bicycles in 1907, as opposed to having to pay $50 for one built by the Wright Brothers or someone like that... though I would think a bicycle built by the Wright Brothers might nowadays have infinitely more cache than a bike built in Japan.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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