One of the more common yet overlooked fishing reels of the post-war era are those of The Ranger Reel Company of Rockford, Michigan. This firm produced a number of neat baitcasting reels in the 1940s and 1950s, but for some reason has gotten little coverage from reel historians. Their “Prize Winning” reels had a unique origin, as laid out in a 1948 article on the origins of the "Prize Winning" reel line entitled "The Reels the Fishermen Asked For."
By late 1945, with the most horrific conflict in world history just a few months over, the great army commissioned to defeat authoritarianism in the east and west began to be disbanded, sending first a trickle and then a flood of now ex-G.I.’s back to America. These former soldiers took to the woods and waters in unprecedented numbers, and the sport of fishing began its most amazing growth period in history. It was clear that by the summer of 1946, traditional fishing tackle manufacturers could never hope to keep up with the unprecedented demand for fishing tackle. New manufacturers thus began to spring up overnight from coast to coast.
Ranger Inc. of Rockford, Michigan was just one of a number of new firms dedicated to making a name in the field. They decided to enter the fishing reel market, and their first offering to the American public in 1947 was the Model 60 baitcasting reel.
The response was underwhelming. But typical of a new breed of manufacturers, they returned to the drawing board to find out what exactly had gone wrong. As the article declared:
A unique approach to the problem of designing and creating new fishing tackle is seen in the technique used by Ranger Inc. of Rockford, Michigan. The concern planned to bring out a new line of baitcasting reels, but before they did so it was decided that rather than go ahead and design the reels, America’s army of fishermen should be given a chance to express their opinions as to exactly what they did or did not like built into their reels.
Throughout 1947, the firm began to conduct intensive research on just what the American public wanted in a fishing reel. What Ranger decided was to basically give the new fisherman—the returning soldier—as many features as possible that were popular with the fishing public. As the article noted:
The most interesting part of the whole program was the method used to obtain the data. Questionnaires were sent to virtually all outdoor and sportsman’s clubs throughout the country. These question sheets were made a part of each club’s program, and prizes were offered for the best suggestions and ideas. Anglers were invited to tell just what they wanted in a fishing reel, or what present features they considered unnecessary.
Some of the questions asked of the new fisherman are as follow:
Do you prefer a reel with a light weight spool or one which runs for a long time after spinning with the finger?
Do you like a built up cork or plastic handle on your reel axle, or do you prefer to fill up the extra space with backing line?
In a free spool reel the handle does not spin when you cast, but engages when you reel in—does such a feature appeal to you?
The article declared that "club members were outspoken as they expressed their preferences." Fishermen were also queried on such subjects as the finish on the reel, spare parts (pawls in particular), antibacklash devices, and most importantly, a "perpetual service policy" for the reel.
Ranger was flooded with responses, which ran "into the thousands," and which came from all corners of the nation. The Ranger staff then carefully compiled the results until "it became possible to assemble a coherent body of data covering just what the average bait caster wanted in his level wind reel. Ranger engineers then set about designing a new reel which incorporated those features most in demand by the fisherman."
The results were given over to the engineering staff at Ranger, who designed a series of reels based on the survey results. As the article concluded:
Evidence of the success of the survey is seen in the recent announcement by Ranger of an entirely new line of casting reels. Typical of the new line of reels is the No. 78 Prizewinner which embodies such features as a featherweight low-inertia spool, extra line capacity for trolling as well as casting, a new antibacklash device that does not slow down the lure while it is being cast, a life-time hardened steel pawl in the level-wind, and a beautiful new chrome finish. This reel and all other Ranger Prizewinner reels are guaranteed for one year against defects in their manufacture, and for a nominal charge each owner of a Prizewinner reel can register his reel under a perpetual service guarantee that covers all charges for replacement or broken parts.
Thus the "Prize Winning" reels of Ranger were those models that best reflected the desires of the new American fisherman. Ranger had given the new American fisherman the reel they had asked for, and for a time would flourish in the wildly fluctuating fishing tackle market of the immediate post-war era. Eventually Ranger was sold to Pioneer Bait & Tackle of Harbor Springs, Michigan, but since this is a tale of the firm’s origins and not its demise, that part of the story will have to wait for another day.
Ranger Reels do not get much respect on the collector market, and that's a shame. They were an interesting company that offered a diverse line of fishing reels, and collecting a complete set of them would make for a wonderful display.
-- Dr. Todd