Until recently AMF Incorporated, the world's largest manufacturer of leisure products (industry's euphemism for fun and games), seemed to yearn for anonymity. While it was peddling 2.5 million bikes every year and eight million balls and 80,000 motorcycles and a fleet of boats, AMF was being thought of as a bowling company fallen on hard times. In fact, it was operating on a nice soft cushion with a $57 million annual profit.
Now suddenly the corporation is clamoring for attention. Head tennis and ski equipment is being stamped AMF in neon red. Stamp Harley-Davidson. Stamp Sunfish. Stamp Sailfish. Stamp Voit. Stamp Skamper. Stamp Ben Hogan. Yes, even that.
AMF is ubiquitous, an excellent place to begin any look at leisure today, and also perhaps an indicator of the sport of tomorrow.
American Machine & Foundry Company (the full name was abandoned in 1970) was founded in 1900 by the American Tobacco Company to make machinery for weighing tobacco and rolling cigarettes. The company soon added automated bakery machinery to its line and, with the invention of sliced bread, became proverbial in manufacturing circles.
In the 1930s AMF got into the sports field almost by accident. While casting about for new products, a group of engineers working in a backyard with old vacuum pumps and inverted graveyard cones developed the automatic Pinspotter for the then-small sport of bowling.
After the war, during which AMF made bomb casings and other heavy metal ordnance, a line it continues to this day, the bowling operation became its prime business. It met the equipment demands—Pinspotters, balls, ball returns, shoe bags—for America's 30 million bowlers throughout the '50s and '60s and then turned to Japan and other countries seeking a wider market for its wares.
By the mid-'60s the board of directors was fully aware of the potential in the leisure field. Since the corporation already had a toehold in recreation with its bowling operation, the decision was made to gradually acquire more sports-related companies. That decision assumed AMF would try to buy out the leader, in prestige and quality, of any given field.
AMF now operates 54 divisions and subsidiaries, 104 branches in 15 countries. Many of its 33,000-plus employees are hardly aware of the sprawling AMF world headquarters in White Plains, N.Y. The company is trying to correct this sad fact with corporate newsletters for both management and labor.
But it was not until the early '70s that AMF decided to lay claim publicly to its gigantic holdings. One employee recalls the old days nostalgically: "You could wow a cocktail party by saying, 'I'm with Head skis!' It's not quite the same now when I tell people, 'I'm with AMF.' " The decision to go to a solid, tight-knit corporate image was made in hopes of long-term benefits. In the spring of 1973 magazine ads began presenting a spanking new AMF. And that September when millions sat down with beer and pretzels to watch ABC's Wide World of Sports there was a rush of AMF commercials, one every few minutes. The screen glowed with Harley-Davidson, Hatteras, Voit, Head, Alcort, Ben Hogan, Skamper and Roadmaster ads. By the end of last year the country's sportsmen were beginning to realize how much equipment came from AMF. The neon red stamp could be found everywhere, on bleachers and skip ropes and the local high school's cheerleader skirts.
The consumer still may not know that the corporation probably is filtering his beer, twisting his pretzels and compacting his garbage. Those operations are so specialized that AMF only advertises them in industry journals. The idea is to be known as a sports company.