The history of fishing reels encompasses far more than just those reels made in the United States. Perhaps it is fitting that today’s most popular, top-quality reels are manufactured by the Asian company, Shimano, which established Shimano Fishing Tackle in Kunshan, China in 2003, since the earliest known reference to a fishing reel comes from China. Circa 1195 AD, Chinese artist Ma Yaun depicted a fisherman leaning from the bow of his boat with what is unmistakably a fishing rod with a reel attached. However, great strides in the development of fishing tackle were made in the United States.
Reels in Colonial America
Reels from Onisimus Ustonson’s London, England, company found their way to the American colonies in the late 1760’s. Brakes and drags for fishing reels had not yet been developed. The fisherman of the eighteenth century, if he used a reel at all, held the rod with one hand, drew out some line with the other, and cast his baited hook. Most anglers of that era simply tied the line to the end of their wooden pole.
Around 1836, brothers Jonathan and Benjamin Meek of Frankfort, Kentucky, began making reels that improved upon available British models. Other reelmakers followed with more improvements, earning Kentucky reels a reputation for beauty and quality. However, with the advent of mass produced reels in the early twentieth century, the Kentucky hand-made reel industry could not compete in terms of affordability. These Kentucky reels are prized by collectors, and those in excellent condition sell for $1,500.00 or more.
The Pflueger Akron Reel
In the early twentieth century, The Pflueger Company of Akron, Ohio was the largest manufacturer of fishing tackle in the world, marketing dozens of fishing reel models. The Pflueger Akron was patented in 1923. It was a well-made, lightweight, level wind reel that gave good service at an economical price. The Akron reel was still marketed into the 1960’s. The value of this reel today varies from $10.00 to $20.00, depending upon condition.
The Zebco Standard Reel
The Zero Hour Bomb Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, produced the Zebco Standard reel in 1949, the first reel specifically designed to prevent backlash when casting. The Zebco tackle company became one of the largest fishing tackle companies in the world.
The Shakespeare Wondercast Reel
The Shakespeare Company, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, introduced the first push-button reel in 1957. The May 1960 issue of Boy’s Life magazine advertised the Wondercast reel for $14.95. The advertisement read, “Just a push of the button, s-w-i-s-h of the rod – PRESTO – push-button fishing!” This reel is valued at around $10.00 today, making it an affordable as well as interesting collectable.
Shimano Most Popular Reel Brand in 2019
Following World War II, competition from Asian tackle manufacturers made inroads into the market that American companies had dominated. Increasingly, affordable, high-quality fishing tackle was made outside of the United States.The consulting firm, Southwick Associates, reported that Shimano was the most popular fishing reel brand sold in the United States in 2016. Shimano, with corporate headquarters in Osaka, Japan, manufactures higher-end reels in Japan, and more affordable ones in Malaysia. The Shimano Stradic FI is a very popular spinning reel, priced at about $160.00. Shimano’s Core Casting Reel, with an ultra-light magnesium frame and sideplates, sells for around $380.00.
Books on the History of Fishing Tackle
Heston, Scott. Ohio Made Fishing Lures and Tackle.
Irwin, R. Stephen MD. Sporting Collectibles. New Jersey: Stoeger Publishing Company.