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AMF Bowling

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AMF Bowling

American Machine and Foundry
Type Private
Founded Brooklyn, United States 1900 (1900)
Founder(s) Rufus L. Patterson
Headquarters Mechanicsville, Virginia, United States

American Machine and Foundry (doing business as AMF) was founded in 1900 and was once one of the largest recreational equipment companies in the United States.


The company was founded by Rufus L. Patterson, inventor of the first automated cigarette manufacturing machine. Originally incorporated in

Bicycle production

In 1950, after purchasing the Roadmaster line of children's and youth bicycles from the Cleveland Welding Company, AMF entered the bicycle manufacturing business with its newly formed AMF Wheel Goods Division. In 1953, after a prolonged labor strike, AMF moved bicycle manufacturing from a UAW-organized plant in Cleveland, Ohio to a new facility in Little Rock, Arkansas.[3] The new plant was heavily automated and featured more than a mile of part conveyor belts in six separate systems, including an electrostatic induction painting operation.[4]

Taking advantage of the increase in its target markets in the aftermath of the baby boom, AMF was able to diversify its product line, adding exercise equipment under the brand name Vitamaster in 1950. As demand for bicycles continued to expand, the company needed a new manufacturing facility to keep up with demand. In 1962, the company moved its operations to Olney, Illinois, where it built a new factory on a 122-acre (0.49 km2) site that would remain the company's principal bicycle manufacturing location into the 1990s.

After two decades of consistent growth, the AMF Wheel Goods Division stalled under the long-distance management of a parent company bogged down in layers of corporate management and marginally profitable product lines. Manufacturing quality as well as the technical standard of the Roadmaster bicycle line - once the pride of the company - had fallen to an all-time low. Bicycles made at the Olney plant were manufactured so poorly that some Midwestern bike shops refused to repair them, claiming that the bikes would not stay fixed no matter how much labor and effort was put into them.[5] The division's problems with quality and outside competition were neatly summed up in a 1979 American film, Breaking Away, in which identical secondhand AMF Roadmaster track bicycles were used by competitors in the Little 500 bicycle race. Despite this product placement, the film's protagonist expressed a decided preference for his lightweight Italian Masi road racing bike, deriding the elderly Roadmaster as a 'piece of junk'.[6]

In 1997, the Roadmaster bicycle division was sold to the Brunswick Corporation. However, it had already become evident that production of low-cost, mass-market bicycles in the US was not viable in the face of foreign competition,[7] and in 1999, all U.S. production of Roadmaster bicycles ceased. Brunswick sold its bicycle division and the Roadmaster brand to Pacific Cycle, which began distributing a new Roadmaster line of bicycles imported from Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. Pacific Cycle still uses the Olney facility for corporate offices and as a product inventory and distribution center.

New product lines

In 1949 the American Machine & Foundry Co., of New York City, developed the pretzel bender a new automatic crispy styled baked pretzel-twisting machine that rolled and tied them at the rate of 50 a minute more than twice as fast as skilled hand twisters could make them and conveyed them through the baking and salting process [8] To expand its line of recreational equipment, AMF bought W. J. Voit Rubber Corp. (tread rubber, scuba gear), Ben Hogan Co. (golfing equipment), and Wen-Mac Corp. (engine-powered toy airplanes).[1]

By 1961, AMF controlled and operated 42 plants and 19 research facilities scattered across 17 countries, producing everything from remote-controlled toy airplanes to ICBM launching systems. AMF was the builder of the launching silos for the Titan and Atlas ICBMs, and also developed the rail-car launching system for the solid-fueled Minuteman ICBM.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the company ran neck-and-neck with General Dynamics in the construction of nuclear power reactors. AMF sold Pakistan and Iran their first nuclear reactors.[1] Peter Karter was among the young engineers working on the reactors AMF built in Pakistan and Iran under the Atoms for Peace program.[9][10][11]

In 1960 the company moved its headquarters from 249 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, to suburban Westbury, New York.

In the early 1960s, American Machine and Foundry partnered with the French company SAFEGE to design, construct and market a monorail for American cities. The AMF Monorail was exhibited at the 1964 New York World's Fair where it traversed a continuous elevated loop around the Amusement section of the Fair. It was displayed as a practical form of future transportation.

In 1971, American Machine and Foundry was renamed AMF. For many years, the company continued to produce a wide variety of sport and leisure equipment, including Roadmaster bicycles, Harley-Davidson motorcycles (1969–81), Head snow skis and tennis racquets (1969–85), snowmobiles, lawn and garden equipment, Ben Hogan golf clubs (1960–85), Voit inflatable balls, exercise equipment (including exercycles), motorized bicycles, mopeds, SlickCraft powerboats (1969–80), Alcort sailboats (including the Sunfish and the Hilu), Hatteras Yachts, and SCUBA gear.

In the late 1970s, in a reference to its numerous leisure product lines, the company began a TV advertising campaign centered on the slogan "AMF, we make weekends". For a short time, the company owned Dewalt Tools (1949–60), and manufactured gymnastics equipment under the AMF brand. The gymnastics division was later spun off to form American Athletic (AAI) which used the same logo as AMF but with different text. New and improved exercycles, such as the Computrim line, the first to incorporate an electronic heart monitor, were introduced. AMF also acquired a recreational motor home division in the form of Atlas Recreational Vehicles of Mason City, Iowa, which was disbanded after heavy losses following the fuel crisis of the early 1970s.


By the late 1970s, the company encountered difficulties. The absence of stable management (the company had seven presidents between 1972 and 1982), aging production facilities, rising labor costs, and the inability of AMF to operate efficiently and control its many corporate product divisions from its headquarters in White Plains, New York, contributed to a steady decline in sales and profits. Unlike large Japanese corporations such as Matsushita Electric Industrial, which had a standing corporate policy of discontinuing any product line or division in which they were not able to stay in first or second place in total market sales, AMF had continued a practice of purchasing new companies in unfamiliar markets, while simultaneously failing to reorganize and modernize its core operations.[12] As a result, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company lost an average of US$8 million per year. Some subsidiaries were sold, including Harley-Davidson in 1981.

For a time, the Italian scuba diving equipment manufacturer Mares was part of AMF, and was able to secure the rights to the MR-12 regulator, previously made by Voit, and to continue manufacture of the regulator. Mares would revert to being an independent manufacturer after AMF was sold. It eventually became part of a worldwide consortium of sports equipment companies, ironically including another former AMF division, Head.[13]

In 1985, AMF was acquired through hostile takeover by Minstar Inc., a Minneapolis-based holding company controlled by investor Irwin L. Jacobs.[14] Minstar, Inc. sold its AMF Bowling Division to private investors in August 1986. The division, which became AMF Bowling Company, Incorporated, manufactured bowling pins and lanes at its plant in Lowville, New York, and related equipment at its plant in Shelby, Ohio. After taking over AMF in November 1986, the new owners sought to reverse $7 million in losses suffered in 1986 at the two plants and to make the company competitive. They cut expenses by $10 million and laid off 172 salaried non-bargaining unit employees. A few months before selling the Bowling Division of AMF, Minstar had successfully negotiated a 24% wage cut and 14% benefit cut for the employees at the Shelby plant. In 1988 however, AMF closed the Shelby, Ohio facility that had operated since the 1950s. The company continued supplying equipment to the bowling industry as AMF, located in Richmond, Virginia.

QubicaAMF Worldwide

In 2005, AMF's Bowling Products division and Italian Qubica Worldwide formed a 50/50 joint venture, QubicaAMF. The partnership takes advantage of Qubica's expertise in automatic scoring technology and AMF's technology in lane equipment and pinsetters.[15]

Contemporary operation

AMF's sole remaining focus is their bowling center operations division, also known as AMF Bowling Centers, Inc.. This division was founded in 1936 and is headquartered in Mechanicsville, Virginia.[16]

In 2007, a new company, 900 Global, purchased the rights to sell bowling balls with the AMF logo.[17]

The company went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in 12 years in November 2012.[18]

Foreign subsidiaries

United Kingdom

AMF Bowling of the United Kingdom has 33 bowling centers.[19] Once a foreign subsidiary of the parent U.S. company, it is now a separately-owned entity. AMF Worldwide sold the UK division in 2004 to certain shareholders of the British leisure conglomerate, Bourne Leisure.[20] While not owned by Bourne, there are strong ties between the two entities.

Most of the AMF Bowling/UK centers have been renovated, with only a handful awaiting refurbishment or relocation. The roll out began after the shareholder acquisition.

Bourne Leisure, owners of AMF Bowling (UK) bought the chain of Hollywood Bowl and run under the umbrella name of The Original Bowling Company (TOBC). There are 45 family entertainment centres in the entire United Kingdom stretching from Torquay all the way up to Stirling. TOBC is the largest bowling operator in the UK.


Due to the growing popularity of ten-pin bowling in Australia, AMF began a joint venture to manufacture pinspotters there in 1959. By 1964 1,600 lanes existed in Australia, but the popularity of the sport had begun to decline. AMF bought two major Australian bowling chains which revived interest in bowling. AMF expanded from 16 centres to 30 by 1987, and to over 40 by 2004.

Code Hennessy (which purchased AMF Worldwide in 2004) sold the Australian division of AMF Worldwide to Macquarie Leisure Trust in February 2005.


External links

  • AMF Bowling Worldwide
  • AMF 300
  • QubicaAmf Website
  • AMF Bowling UK
  • Development of the Automatic Pinsetter
  • (1964/1965 New York World's Fair Website) story of the AMF Monorail
  • AMF Building in New York City
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