BSA, which stands for Birmingham Small Arms, was founded in 1861 to manufacture firearms – a benchmark that fans of the BBC drama Peaky Blinders are familiar with.
After World War II, the Midlands munitions factory in Small Heath, south-east Birmingham, became a motorcycle assembly line.
For many years BSA was Birmingham’s largest employer, and by the end of World War II the manufacturer employed 28,000 workers and controlled 67 factories.
Birmingham Small Arms Factory, Small Heath, Birmingham, February 1917. Men and women working on the machines in the Number One Machine Shop during World War I, producing rifles, Lewis guns, shells and military vehicles
The company’s Small Heath factory played a major role in the production of weapons during World War I and then manufactured more than half of the weapons used by British forces during World War II.
They also produced 128,000 military bicycles and 126,000 military motorcycles during World War II.
This meant the factory was a target for the Luftwaffe and in 1940 the factory was bombed three times in three months, killing 53 people, injuring 89 and destroying more than four acres of the factory.
BSA staff at Small Heath Birmingham walk out of the factory gates at the start of their four-day Easter break, April 14, 1949
BSA bicycle assembly line at Small Heath April 30, 1935
After the war, BSA became the world leader in the manufacture of motorcycles.
In 1948, BSA launched the legendary Bantam, which subsequently sold over 250,000 copies. It also launched successful models including the Gold Star and the A10 Rocket Gold Star.
In 1951, he bought rival British motorcycle brand Triumph.
The combined production of the two brands made BSA the world’s largest motorcycle producer at the time.
The Bantam is the most famous product of British manufacturers, selling over a quarter of a million examples after the model was launched after WWII.
The Bantam used a small capacity single cylinder engine. Over 250,000 have been sold
However, mismanagement and bad investments brought the company down soon after and – like many UK companies – it was crippled by recession around the turn of the 1970s.
A government bailout in 1972 saw BSA merge with Norton-Villiers to create Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT), which only lasted six years before being ultimately liquidated.
The last BSA motorcycle was produced in 1973.