World War 2, factories and bicycles

Lockheed provided bicycles and bus rides for factory workers during World War 2.

The caption for this photo from the U.S. Office of War Information in 1944 says employees who live within four miles of the Lockheed Vega aircraft factory in Burbank, California can purchase bicycles through the company and sell then back to the company when need for them no longer exists.

2400 bicycles were sold “in record time” according to the War Information Office. This is part of the swing shift on the way home at 12:30 AM.

Lockheed Vega factory bicycle commuters World War 2

This special employee purchase program bypassed national bicycle rationing that took effect in 1942, but these bikes still had to meet wartime design and weight standards. Prior to World War 2, the average bicycle weighed 57 pounds. In 1942, bike factories could no longer manufacture children’s bicycles — all bicycle production was limited for factory worker transportation — and bikes had to weigh no more than 31 pounds to conserve metal.

Even coffee was rationed between October 1942 and August 1943, because of German U-boat attacks on commercial shipping in the Atlantic. The military had priority on the coffee that did make it to U.S. ports.

Employees lived an average of 10 miles from the Lockheed Vega factory adjacent to Union Airport (Bob Hope Airport today). Gasoline and car parts were rationed or were simply unavailable for the war effort, so the company encouraged car pools and ran their own private bus service for the thousands of people who worked each shift. Rubber, which came from Japanese-controlled southeast Asia, was in especially short supply, and people had to justify their car tire purchases to their local ration board. Those living within four miles of work or near public transportation and declined to participate in a carpool were unable to buy tires. Lockheed workers were limited to 8 gallons of gasoline per week, which was double the ration for most other workers.

Buses and bicycles, Lockheed Vega factory World War 2

Bicycles were also used during work at the factory. This photo shows a clerk using a bicycle to get paperworks signed off at the sprawling North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California.

Girl on bicycle delivers paperwork World War 2

The B-17 Flying Fortress, the PV-1 Ventura, the Hudson and the P38 Lightning were manufactured at Lockheed’s Vega factory during World War 2. North American built the B-25 Mitchell and the P-51 Mustang in Inglewood.

Photos from the U.S. Library of Congress Reading Room.

8 Comments

  • Anonymous
    December 9, 2011 - 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Phenomenal research!

  • December 9, 2011 - 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. Wikipedia and the LIbrary of Congress for all of that material.

  • December 11, 2011 - 2:07 am | Permalink

    Thought Boeing still used bikes around the factory to day. Oh maybe they got those electric powered things that need to be charged and cost a couple of K to replace the bikes that cost a lot less and don’t need to be charged.

  • December 12, 2011 - 2:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks, that’s cool. It would be interesting to know how many of the bikes were sold back to the company.

  • December 13, 2011 - 6:32 am | Permalink

    Bicycles have a long history, thanks for sharing.

  • December 13, 2011 - 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Hey Robert, long time no see. I was curious about that too, and I also wonder how many were sold through the black market. Thanks for dropping by.

  • December 13, 2011 - 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about Boeing specifically, but Workman still provides bikes for industrial use.

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