Support for the Allies in WWII, wrapped around a bicycle sprocket

I wrote to Sturmey-Archer’s European office a few months ago concerning the Swiss-made Vibo three-speed hub described on the Sturmey-Archer Heritage Web site. The Web page about this hub indicates that a scrap of paper which enclosed the sprocket in the shipping box shows German troops marching into Paris. It doesn’t. The page hasn’t been corrected, so I’ll make a correction here.

Here’s the scrap of paper. You can click on the image to enlarge it, and read the caption if you happen to read French.

The scrap of paper which wrapped the Vibo hub

The scrap of paper which wrapped the Vibo hub

Here’s translation from the French on the scrap of paper.

Underground mobilization
in the Paris sewers and catacombs

(continued from no. 29)

A city full of passion and hope

Since the start of the invasion, German illustrated newspapers have ostentatiously been publishing images of Paris which the propaganda agencies accompany with strange commentaries. Here is an example: it is supposed to prove that Paris is hostile to the Anglo-Saxon invaders and that it openly supports the acts and cause of its oppressors. While the tank battle rages in Normandy, German power is being asserted in the French capital through the organization of large demonstrations by reserve troops along the avenues and boulevards. The Germans do not seem to be troubled by the developments alongside and below them, appearing to be content to drown out the muffled rumblings of the partisan army in the underground city with the sound of boots on the Champs Elysées. The Germans are surrounded by large crowds which “applaud spontaneously, clap their hands and throw flowers.” But who, then, has checked whether these are Parisians? There are two hundred thousand German civilians in Paris, to whom might be added, as in any large city, a certain number of women of easy virtue. Let us recall 1870 and the well-known heroines of Maupassant’s stories. There is nothing mysterious about this image. The Champs-Elysées? Yes. But Paris? No!

This establishes a few things:

  • The hub was shipped no earlier than the weeks in 1944 after the D-Day invasion but before the liberation of Paris — not when “German troops were marching into Paris,” as indicated on the Sturmey-Archer Web page.
  • Therefore, any lawsuit to stop production of this apparently unauthroized copy of the Sturmey-Archer AW hub did not succeed till after that time (and I suspect, wouldn’t get much attention while the war was raging).
  • As Switzerland was neutral, the hub could have been exported to Germany or a German-dominated country — including French-speaking countries — and so the message might have been chosen intentionally as an indication of support for the Allies against Nazi Germany. Note how neatly the paper is torn to preserve the image and caption!

It is also understandable that a Swiss company would take up manufacture of a copy of a Sturmey-Archer hub during the war. There was no way to get the real thing in Switzerland, which was surrounded by Axis and Axis-dominated countries. Also, production of bicycle components — especially for export — in both Allied and Axis nations was limited by the war. The threat of a lawsuit from England would be much less of a concern than action — legal and diplomatic — by the neighboring Germans; the Swiss manufacturer and/or employees clearly were more sympathetic to the Allied cause, and might also expect customers to be. Therefore, a copy of a British hub would probably be better received than a copy of a German one, even though illegal.

6 responses to “Support for the Allies in WWII, wrapped around a bicycle sprocket

  1. Clearly S-A was miffed about this Swiss theft of their intellectual property. My 1951 AM hub has British AND Swiss patent numbers stamped into the hub shell.

  2. Just one question about the paper “Underground Mobilization”.
    Do U know the title of the newspaper where it was published ?

    Thanks !
    (I’m writing a book about Paris underground during ww2)

    • I don’t know. It was only a scrap of paper. The newspaper has to have been Swiss, as the hub is Swiss and only the Swiss published in French and were free of Nazi domination. The date has to have been in the few weeks between D-Day and the liberation of Paris.

  3. I believe that the orignal S/A patent dates back to 1903. Patent protection lapses after time certain. W/o knowing the duration of British patents and knowing which S/A model was copied, it’s plausible that this Swiss hub was non-infringing, since the patents pertaining to its design had lapsed. Having posed the hypothesis, I return to the shadows…

    • The Vibo Swiss hub was produced in the early 1940s, and is a copy of the Sturmey-Archer AW. If there were new patents for the AW, they wouldn’t have expired. In Tony Hadland’s book The Sturmey-Archer Story, I don’t see mention of any new patents relative to the AW’s introduction in 1936-1937, but there is mention of out-of-patent copies of it in the 1950s. You’d have to ask Hadland!

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