BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) was founded in 1861 in the Gun Quarter, Birmingham, England by fourteen gunsmiths of the Birmingham Small Arms Trade Association, who had together supplied arms to the British government during the Crimean War. The factory was built on twenty five acres of ground at Small Heath and building work was completed in 1863. However shortly after the demand for firearms declined and the factory closed for a short period in 1878.
In 1880 BSA decided to manufacture cycles and tricycles following a demonstration of a cycle by a Mr ECF Otto. At this time BSA also registered the three crossed rifles as a trade mark, and the "Piled Rifles" trademark was to become known throughout the world.
Cycle manufacture ceased in 1887 so that BSA could concentrate on the manufacture of the Lee Metford rifle. Again this market collapsed in 1892 and BSA was again without a product to manufacture.
The company reverted to cycle manufacture, a market which was now bouyant following the invention of the pneumatic tyre. The Small Heath factory expanded and 1903 BSA began producing and experimenting with proto type motor bikes.
In 1906 BSA purchased the Eadie Manufacturing Company.
In 1910 BSA purchased the British Daimler Company for its automobile engines.
World War One
During World War 1, BSA returned to arms manufacture and greatly expanded its operations. BSA produced at its highest production output 10,000 rifles a week, producing a total of 1.5 million rifles during the first world war. BSA also manufactured Lewis guns, shells, motorcycles and other equipment and vehicles for the war effort. The business expanded its operations and factory space to cope with the demand, and at its peak demand BSA emloyed 20,000 people.
Inter War Years
Following the end of the war the number of employees declined, but the BSA motor cycle range was selling well and the BSA advertising slogan that "One in four is a BSA" gives an indication of both the number of BSA motor bikes being manufactured, sold and in every day use.
In 1924, four BSA motor cycles successfully climbed Snowden, and two years later two enthusiasts covered 20,000 land miles, travelled through 24 countries on an 18 month journey.
The directors of BSA anticipated that war was inevitable again and prepared to manufacture arms once again, with investment in machinery for this purpose.
In 1931 the Lanchester Motor Company was acquired by BSA and production of their cars transferred to Daimler's Coventry works.
World War Two
By World War 11, BSA had 67 factories and was well positioned to meet the demand for guns and ammunition. During the war BSA manufactured >450,000 Browning guns, 10,000,000 shell fuses and 126,000 M20 motor cycles for the armed forces.
BSA made over 70,000 folding bicycles for use by paratroopers. It was parachuted down either separately or carried by a paratrooper as he jumped from the aircraft. The frame was hinged in the middle and could be securely locked with a wing nut. They were lightweight for their time, but not in comparison with today’s bicycles made from modern materials. Most soldiers discarded them when they encountered rough terrain.
At the end of the Second World War BSA employed 28,000 workers employed in 67 factories.
The BSA factory was always a target for the German Luftwaffe and on the night of the 19th of November 1940 an aircraft dropped two bombs on the southern end of the Armoury Road factory, rescuers rushed to the scene and tried to control the fire that ensued. Unfortunately as a result of the bombing raid 53 employees lost their lives and 89 were injured.
The BSA Group bought Triumph Engineering Compay Ltd in 1951, making them the largest producer of motorcycles in the world.
In 1960 Daimler was sold off to Jaguar.
BSA were manufacturing all sorts of products now, and was a large well respected company, expanding into various product and engineering markets.
The BSA bicycle arm was sold off to Raleigh in 1957.
1961 was the centenary year for BSA.
By 1965 BSA was feeling the effect of competition from Japan and Germany.
BSA continued to expand and had success untill in 1971 BSA found itself with a trading loss of £3m. But sales and trading had been declining for some time.
Refinancing by Barclays Bank (£10m), financial losses, new product lines, restructuring and negotiations followed but to no real effect, and production ended abruptly in the summer of 1973.
The "Bantam" was in production for a period of 23 years.
"One in four is a BSA" was a slogan used by BSA which was apparantly a fact.
How many times have you read or heard the phrase "the dimise of British Industry"? The BSA business like so many others e.g. cars, white goods, manufacturing did not think of and/or could not change in time to meet the new demands from other products from other countries. Even if they could price is all important and whilst we could have competed on design, technical ability, inovation and so on we could not have competed on price.
But its not only about price is it? What a shame that all that we need in our day to day lives we do not make any more? Maybe one day we will realise what we have lost and the fact that we cannot return and get these industries back. I also think that the Government, Management and the Trade Union movement all have to bear a little of the responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in today, relying on imports for products that we can and should manufacture.
Regarding the BSA Company you only have to search the internet for the history of BSA to get some idea of how large this Company was and its manufacturing diversity, size and number of employees, it really was one of the industrial giants. An example that is quite frankly a little hard to comprehend or understand today.
Yes I suppose I am a little nostalgic and I do not apologise for this, but we were and can be again a world leader in all sorts or areas including manufacturing and engineering.
What a shame that other famous names and manufacturers of products (like BSA) have all declined, and have been sold off and are based, and being manufactured now in Europe and the far east. Hopefully a small part of British Industry and all that we have achieved as a nation from an engineering perspective can live on in some small way with my BSA 1966 Bantam D7 restoration.
BSA Motor Cycles Limited. Armoury Road, Birmingham 11.
"The success of Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha has been jolly good for us. People start out by buying one of the low priced jobs. They enjoy the fun and exhilaration of the open road and they frequently end up buying one of our more powerful and expensive machines".
Edward Turner - Chairman of BSA Ltd 1965
"As a means of transport the Bantam has much to commend it. Comfort, good road holding and sound construction give it the impression that it will provide many years os service".
Meccano Magazine 1969
"Who's to say there won't be a Bantam 20 years from now?"
Motor Cycle 24th April 1968
Whats left of BSA can be found at http://www.bsaguns.co.uk/