In 1956, bikes were simple machines, requiring simple repairs. A wrench set, a screwdriver, and a small handful of specialty tools were enough to fix just about anything that rolled into Hazel Park Radio and Bicycle Shop, a small Schwinn dealer in St. Paul, Minnesota. These were the days when bicycle service was seen as just one aspect of the typical “fix-it shop”, alongside other handyman services such as skate sharpening, radio tube testing, and key cutting.
The shop’s owners, Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom, did all these jobs and more. Howard and Art were hands-on guys with a knack for creative thinking and problem solving. One problem they encountered was the lack of a convenient, ergonomic way to work on bikes. Typically, a mechanic would flip the bike over on the ground and crouch down to access the drivetrain or pull a wheel. This was a crude and cumbersome arrangement, especially in an era when bikes were bulky contraptions made of solid steel.
Their solution: a bicycle “repair stand”. Built in collaboration with their friend Jim Johnson from old furniture and automotive parts, this new device could hold a bike off the ground and upside down, allowing easy access to any part of the bike. This stand proved to be quite useful, and surprisingly popular, attracting inquiries from other shop owners, mechanics, and even the Schwinn Bicycle Company itself. It was finally redesigned and made available for sale in 1963, first through the Schwinn dealer supply catalog and eventually directly from Hazel Park Cycle Center. Howard and Art called it the PRS-1: Park Repair Stand, model number one.
As the 60s turned into the 70s and bicycles grew more complex, more sophisticated tools were needed to service them. The PRS-1 was soon joined by more tools and implements: a wheel truing stand, a double-armed repair stand, a cotter pin remover, spoke wrenches, chain breakers, specialty brake tools. These tools continued to be made in the back of the bike shop, which had moved to a brand new 7,000 square foot building in 1966.
The tool business and the bike business steadily grew side by side, each one informing the other with firsthand experience. By the time Art and Howard sold the bike business in 1981 to concentrate on Park Tool, the largest of their three stores had achieved Top 10 Schwinn Dealer status for 16 consecutive years, and the Park Tool catalog boasted 60 unique products. But even then, no one could have predicted how the ensuing years would play out.
As of 2023 (our 60th year in business), Park Tool makes over 500 products and sells them in over 70 countries. We outgrew the back of the bike shop some time ago, and currently operate out of a 100,000 square foot facility just a few miles down the road from where the old Schwinn store once stood. We are firmly established as the tool brand of choice in bike shops and race pits around the world, and our reputation as the standard of the industry has even expanded to our repair help tutorial content, which has racked up millions of visits to parktool.com and over a hundred million views on YouTube, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of copies sold of our Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair. We continue to update and improve our product line according to the demands of the industry, and have made a concerted effort over the past decade to bring more of our manufacturing in-house than ever before.
Today, bikes are far more complex than they were in the days of cottered cranks and downtube shifters. However, Park Tool’s mission is still the same as it was when we made our first stand: to identify the needs of the professional and amateur bike mechanic, and make high quality tools to meet those needs. We’d like to think that we’re still in business 60 years later because of our dedication to that mission, as well as the hard work of Park Tool employees past and present, and the invaluable support of our customers. Regardless of how bikes change over the next 60 years, we’re confident that we’ll be up for the challenge of providing the tools needed to repair and maintain them.