Wednesday, May 25, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 8: A.C. McClurg & Co. of Chicago

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 8:

The Bookseller's Fishing Tackle--

A.C. McClurg & Co. of Chicago

One of the most surprising fishing tackle wholesalers has to be the Chicago firm of A.C. McClurg & Co., a name far more famous in book circles than in fishing ones.

The company got its start as one of Chicago's first enterprises known as S.C. Griggs, a stationery and book store founded in 1844. When Alexander C. McClurg--a recent Miami of Ohio graduate--went to work for them as a clerk in 1859, little did he know that his burgeoning book career would be interrupted by the great conflagration known as the American Civil War.

McClurg was born in Philadelphia in 1834 and in 1862 enlisted in the 88th Illinois Volunteers, was immediately promoted to Captain, and eventually breveted as a Brigadier General. He was Chief of Staff for the 14th Army Corps and accompanied Sherman on his march through the South.

General Alexander Caldwell McClurg ca. 1890.

Upon his return, General McClurg was offered a partnership in the Griggs company, which changed its name to Jansen, McClurg & Co. in 1872 after the Chicago Fire. Under General McClurg, the company became one of the leading book distributors and publishers in the nation, and soon added numerous other lines to its wholesale catalog including, as we shall discover, sporting goods.

1906 McClurg ad from their wholesale catalog.

Business boomed and McClurg even had time to found a literary magazine of note known as The Dial. The company published a number of important authors during this period.

In 1899 A.C. McClurg & Co. burned to the ground (a total loss) but was rebuilt along the lines of a cooperative, with employees owning much of the company stock. The General passed away in 1901, having left behind a great legacy in arts and letters. Although the company was far better known for its distribution, it did hit a home run by publishing the first ten Edgar Rice Burroughs "Tarzan" novels. By 1923, McClurg become a strictly wholesale house, even selling its flagship downtown Chicago bookstore in 1923 to Brentano's.

1927 advertisement for A.C. McClurg's wholesale firm from the Nat'l Association of Retail Druggists magazine.

The company was distributing fishing tackle as early as 1890, and was issuing a separate sporting goods catalog containing tackle by 1900. Marked McClurg tackle is both elusive and mysterious. They surely sold a lot of tackle, but almost nothing is known of their trade names or how wide their distribution was.

In fact, the only marked piece of fishing tackle I've found from this company is a line spool marked "McClurg's Raven" that dates from ca. 1950. It is for 50 yards of 30 lb. test braided nylon casting line. We know they were active in the tackle field well past World War II, as recently a 1960 McClurg catalog came up for sale and it contained a full line of tackle.

McClurg's Raven line spool ca. 1950.

As the company went out of business in 1962, the firm wholesaled tackle for almost seven decades. Surely this one piece of tackle cannot be the sum total of this iconic Chicago firm?

1960 McClurg wholesale catalog.

It is not even known if Raven was one of McClurg's trade names, or just a catchy name used to hawk this particular model of fishing lines.

Anyone with any information on A.C. McClurg fishing tackle drop me a line!

-- Dr. Todd

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