When news broke that Britain was at war with Germany in August 1914 (WWI) Raleigh sales received a huge boost. Not only did the government buy special new ‘war’ models, but the public returned to the bicycle as the favored (and more economical) form of transport.
Cycle production continued during the First World War but at a greatly reduced level since a large part of the factory was quickly turned over to munitions. By the end of the First World War, the Raleigh factory had been transformed. It now employed a workforce of nearly 5000, many of them women, who worked shifts around the clock, while the factory had been considerably enlarged and equipped with a vast amount of new and sophisticated automatic machinery.
Between the wars Raleigh continued to grow, and by 1936 was producing half a million bicycles a year. Munitions production started again in 1936, and with the declaration of war in September 1939, bicycle production was immediately dropped to only 5 percent of normal, with work focused on the manufacture of fuses.
Raleigh’s factory site was camouflaged and an extensive Air-Raid Precautions (ARP) training scheme was set in operation.
Though 3500 employees were lost to the forces, a large number were replaced by pensioners and women to enable the continuous production of fuses. This level of production meant Raleigh produced the greater part of the total national supply of fuses – quite an achievement.
The resumption of cycle production at the end of 1945 was accompanied by a greater re-organisation of the factory and the commencement of large scale production of the ‘Robin Hood’ range of cycles. These had been introduced originally in 1938 under the name ‘Gazelle’, a lower price, lower quality bicycle than the Raleigh.
After the war, despite shortages of fuel and steel, Raleigh’s cycle production rose rapidly. By 1949, it had reached about 750,00.
Information Provided by Global Bikes