Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Bright Idea: The Brief History of the Electric Fishing Reel

A Bright Idea: The Brief History of the Electric Fishing Reel

I ran across the following blurb from Popular Mechanics for July 1952 about an electric fishing reel and it got me thinking.


When was the first electric fishing reel patented? What was the first successful electric reel? What was the first battery powered reel? Did they work? Why or why not?

Hey! That's a lot of questions, but I did some research and discovered a very interesting story that goes back nearly 100 years and involves a lot of interesting designs, including one by a world-famous individual many of you probably have heard of before.

As far as I can tell, the granddaddy of them all is the 20 May 1913 McCluer & Munn Patent #1,062,488 for an electrically powered automatic fishing reel. Marshall McCluer and Albert C. Munn of Muskegon, Michigan invented this exceptionally early electric fishing tackle patent, predating by a half year the first electric fishing lure I could find (West Virginia native J.C. Simms' beautiful Electric Artificial Minnow patent #1,079,891).


McCluer & Munn's monstrosity. Mary Shelley would have been proud.

This was not the only early patent for an electric fishing reel, however. In one case, a legendary name was attached to an electric reel patent.

Of great interest is Italian automotive legend Ettore Bugatti's Patent #2,190,398 dated 13 February 1940 for an electric powered big game fishing reel. Originally patented in France, this fascinating reel shows off Bugatti's incredibly fertile mind. I have no idea if this reel was ever manufactured.


Almost certainly the Second World War curtailed Bugatti's invention.

Bugatti, of course, was far better known for his incredible race cars.


The legend poses for a photo. He had moved to France in 1936.


Bugatti's invention was followed closely by Oklahoma City's Thomas C. Fanshier's Patent #2,262,671 for a motor driven fishing reel. This patent was issued on 11 November 1941, and was an improvement over two previous patent applications (Serial #268,299 and #277,385, both dating from 1939). It differed in that Fanshier envisioned attaching his device to existing rods and reels.

The war certainly stopped work on both Bugatti and Fanshier's inventions, and it was only after the war ended that work resumed once again on electric reels. Jackson Hole, Wyoming natives Dempsey Luton and Karl Johnson's Patent #2,470,507 (17 May 1949) covered an electric powered fishing rod-and-reel, with the dynamo in the butt of the rod powering the reel.

Soon after, Lawrence Lockwood of Spokane, WA received Patent #2,541,876 on 13 February 1951 for an electric rod-and-reel combo. This reel was designed to actually electrically haul in the fish. It took four years for this patent to be granted.

Here are four pictures of what I believe to be a Lawrence Lockwood electric rod-and-reel combo, courtesy of J.K. Garrett and L.P. Brooks:





Soon after, J.A. Holm received Patent #2,588,837 on 11 March 1952 for an electric fishing reel brake. Interestingly, the patent application also took nearly four years to be approved, which is an eternity in the patent business.

How much these earlier electric reel development mays have affected the next electric reel innovation, Patent #2,600,685 issued 17 June 1952, is not known. This patent was issued to two brothers name Edward J. Perinoni of Santa Clara and Dominic Perinoni of Los Gatos, California. It is this patent that became the Coit Electric Reel, the first successful mass-produced electric fishing reel.


Of interest in the patent papers is an earlier patent application for an invention utilizing a magnetic brake system. This was scrapped in favor of an "electrical circuit associated with the brake mechanism, a tripping device for rendering the brake active in response to a slack developing in the line and in the mounting means for the battery furnishing the source of energy for the electrical circuit."

The patent application came in late 1949, so obviously they were working on it for some time before this. When the product finally hit the market it was known as the Coit Reel and was listed as being made in Mendota, California -- one of the first (if not the first) battery operated electric fishing reels in history. The electrically powered drag device to prevent spool overrun seemed to be successful, although many of these reels appear on the market in excellent condition, implying few saw heavy use.


I believe this model reel ceased being manufactured sometime around 1954. I think the window for manufacturing it was around 1951-1954, and it was made in at least two known models. The company that made it -- the Electric Reel Company of America (ERCOA) -- came out with another model (the #3000) and was still listed in the 1955 Sporting Goods Dealer's Directory. That journal listed them with a Firebaugh, CA address instead of Modesto.

There were other 1950s/1960s electric reels, including models by Zebco, Old Pal, and a few Japanese imports. There were also a number of other contemporary patents including Alex Mihalko and Harold Arahart's Patent #2,760,736 and Morris Du Val's Patent #3,077,318, and many more to follow.

But the Coit was the first nationally advertised electric reel. Recent advanced reels like Shimanos utilize magnets to accomplish a similar thing. It's fascinating to note that the Perinoni brother rejected the magnetic brake in favor of the electric one. Maybe they were on to something, for with all the advances in battery design, perhaps the design is still feasible today!

An aesthetically pleasing reel, I've never met anyone who's gotten one running, so I don't know if they worked or not. But they are pretty and can be had for a reasonable price, and make a great (if obscure) collectable reel.

Who knows? Maybe our future reels will be just as bright an idea as the Perinoni brother's Coit Electric reel.

-- Dr. Todd

8 comments:

Robert said...

Hey, I have bought and sold quite a few of these Coit Electric Reels, and this is some of the best info, I have seen on them, I want to thankyou for your time, great work, Robert

Robert said...

I wanted to tell you that most people who handle these for the first time, think that the clicker switch button does not work, it will kick out when you crank the handle, and then take them apart and start grinding, ( myself included! ) in fact it is part of the electrical process of slowing the spool down to prevent backlash, it says so in the directions! So what I am saying, if you find one, and the clicker works, someone has already ruined it! I think this one of the reasons why they did not take off sales wise! These reels were well machined, and beautiful to look at! and part of our American history. Robert rpe2005@sbcglobal.net

THE Peterson family said...

I'd like to thank you for your in-depth article on the electric fishing reel. My Grandfather had given me one of these Coit Electric Reels many years ago which I still have today. It has the red aluminum casing and has never been used with box and original papers/warrantee card. He was a farmer from Firebaugh, CA which from your article states they may have been made there! Thanks again! Matt

Jon said...

I have one of the Lawrence Lockwood Electric Rod & Reel Combos. Are there many out there? Are they worth anything?

Jon said...

I have one of the Lawrence Lockwood Electric Rod & Reel Combos. Are there many out there? Are they worth anything?

Unknown said...

My father worked for Mr.Frank Coit many years ago,and retired 4 yrs ago after working for his son Marvin Coit.I have a Coit reel and Coit fishing pole.I was born in Mendota,Ca and well its just great to have a part of that american history as a keepsake. :-)

Cecilia Moreno said...

My father worked for Mr.Frank Coit many years ago,and retired 4 yrs ago after working for his son Marvin Coit.I have a Coit reel and Coit fishing pole.I was born in Mendota,Ca and well its just great to have a part of that american history as a keepsake. :-)

Cecilia Moreno said...

My father worked for Mr.Frank Coit many years ago,and retired 4 yrs ago after working for his son Marvin Coit.I have a Coit reel and Coit fishing pole.I was born in Mendota,Ca and well its just great to have a part of that american history as a keepsake. :-)