Winchester Repeating Arms Co. 1930
When I first started to collect old fishing lures about 35 years ago, I was somewhat surprised to learn that the famous firearms company, Winchester Repeating Arms Co, had also been in the fishing tackle business. In a few years time I found spinners, tackle boxes, reels, steel rods and plugs that bore the Winchester name. There was a time, I believe it was in the very late 1980's, when Winchester tackle was “hotter than a $2 pistol” and during room trading at shows some folks would simply stick their head in the door and ask, “Any Winchester?”. If the answer was “no”, they quickly moved on to the next room, not looking over the other vintage tackle offerings. I received a phone call about this time from a self-described “Winchester Collector” who stated that he had to move and needed to cut back on the volume of his collection and wanted to know if I were interested in buying the fishing items he had. When I visited his home he lead me into his basement where I got a terrific shock. The large basement was filled to capacity with hundreds of general hardware items, all bearing the name “Winchester”. Axes, hammers, scissors, flashlights, batteries, electric fans, cutlery etc etc etc, were piled everywhere.
If I had seen today's ad from the February 1930 issue of Outdoor Life I would not have been so surprised. The stock market crash in October of 1929 marked the beginning of the “Great Depression” which lead to 25% unemployment by 1933, This fact prompted me to wonder how Winchester survived this foray into the hardware business and how long they continued to make fishing tackle after this ad appeared.. So I went to a real Winchester expert, none other than long time collector and author Phil White. Phil was kind enough to pen the following information for us:
"There will always be some debate over this question, but there are a few things we know for sure. The Winchester Repeating Arms Co. was sold to John Olin of Western Cartridge Co. at the end of December 1931. Olin started divesting the company of the many non gun products that had bankrupt Winchester. I believe that Winchester ended all tackle manufacture in 1930 or 1931, but this is difficult to prove. The 1930 Winchester catalog states that all spoonbaits were discontinued as of July 1, 1930. However, the Winchester Eureka spoonbait assortment was still listed in Horrock-Ibbotson's catalog in 1959. There are Winchester marked rods, reels, metal baits, and the so called Winchester wooden "economy baits" that were produced by H-I long after Winchester was out of the tackle business. We do know that H-I stated in their 1933 catalog that they had "succeeded" the Winchester Repeating Arms Co (Reel and Bait Division). I have never been able to look at a 1932 H-I catalog to see if it has the same statement, but I would guess that H-I purchased Winchester's fishing tackle division in 1932.
There are rods, reels and metal baits that were either assembled from parts, or manufactured by H-I long after their purchase of Winchester tackle that are marked "Winchester". Some bamboo rods that are identical to H-I marked products have either a Winchester decal or the word "Winchester" inked in just above the handle. To me, these are not a part of Winchester fishing tackle. But to other collectors they are bought and sold as Winchester. There are many reels that bear catalog numbers that were never listed by Winchester. These, I believe, are Horrocks-Ibbotson reels, not Winchester. Winchester was very fussy about having a catalog number on everything, and everything well cataloged. Winchester did produce a fishing tackle catalog in 1933. We know that H-I had already purchased the Winchester tackle division by that year, so I assume the catalog was an attempt to clear inventory, or was at the printer before the sale was completed. Confusing, eh? My best guess is that Winchester ended fishing tackle production in 1930 or 1931, but was still selling inventory for a year or two after. It is very difficult to understand how many other products Winchester manufactured, or had produced under their banner. I owned a washing machine at one time, which was probably the most unusual item. I have also had tools, wagons, skates, paint cans, padlocks, tennis rackets, baseball bats, gloves and balls, etc. Winchester did continue to produce flashlights and roller skates up until WWII."
Thanks Phil for this outstanding education.