Wednesday, June 15, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 11: Henry C. Lytton's The Hub 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 11:

Henry C. Lytton's "The Hub"

and its Fishing Tackle

This week we get a fun little history of a venerable Chicago iconic institution--Henry C. Lytton's "The Hub" stores and their foray into fishing tackle.

Henry C. Lytton's portrait ca. 1904.

Henry C. Lytton & Sons Company was founded by one of Chicago's most famous businessmen. Henry C. Lytton, born in 1846, opened his first store in Ionia, Michigan in the early 1860s, and although it went out of business, he soon proved his acumen by managing successful clothing stores in Grand Rapids, MI and Indianapolis, In.

Selling out of his Indianapolis store in 1886, he came to Chicago with $12,000 and opened a clothing store in 1887 on Chicago's famous Loop, at the corner of Jackson and State Streets. He called the store "The Hub" and soon after began utilizing cutting edge advertising to attract a growing clientele. While it was always known for men's wear, it made an effort to court ladies as well. By 1910 it was the largest clothing store in the city, and was taking out full or half page ads six days a week in almost all the Chicago daily papers.

In 1913 the company moved across the street to expansive quarters known as the Lytton building. According to the Jazz Age Chicago Encyclopedia, the building "was eighteen stories tall and cost an estimated $2.25 million to build…The Hub occupied the lower eight floors and two basements of the Lytton Building, while the upper floors were used for offices." That year the firm employed 175 women.

It was in 1913 that The Hub began to offer sporting goods. A natural extension from the racks of sporting clothing Lytton sold to the seemingly endless stream of sports who frequented his establishment, fishing tackle formed an important component of this expansion. Below is a photograph of the sporting goods department of the Hub, taken from the March 29, 1913 edition of The Electrical Review, an electrician's trade journal.

Bicycles, canoes, and boats--and a careful eye can make out fishing tackle toward the back of the room.

The firm was always known for its advertising, and in the middle teens filled the pages of the daily papers with notices hawking their wares. The following advertisement from the June 29, 1922 Chicago Tribune was typical. Note that the Hub was selling trade branded Hub fishing line, and that they had discounted their Talbot reels to $9.45! That is the least expensive Talbot Star I have ever seen advertised.

Chicago Tribune advertisement.

Close-up of the tackle offerings.

The only marked fishing tackle I've seen from Lytton are snelled hook packets and one exceptionally neat fishing reel owned by Ron Gast. Ron has kindly consented to allow us to post pics of this great reel, and as you can see, it is a Montague trade reel ca. 1915 and a nice one at that.

Beautiful Hub reel courtesy of Ron Gast.

A close up of the killer logo on this Montague trade reel. Courtesy Ron Gast.

As for Lytton, although he retired in 1917 and turned the firm over to his son George, when George passed away in 1933 Henry return from 16 years of retirement and took over day-to-day operations of the company again. He would preside as president until he passed away at the almost surreal age of 101 in 1947. Both during his life and after his passing, a number of Lytton branches were opened across the greater Chicago area.

Henry C. Lytton poses with the Chicago Tribune in 1947 at the tender age of 101.

1934 saw the opening of the Lytton "Century of Progress" store in concert with the Chicago World's Fair. (Courtesy Garrett & Brooks).

Lytton's stock certificate. (Courtesy Garrett & Brooks).

Lytton was a true Chicago icon and his 100th birthday made front page news in all the Windy City papers. HIs wife was a member of the Daughters of the Revolution and the pair endowed an important Lytton Scholarship at the nearby University of Chicago. Lytton's philanthropy was noted early in his career, as he annually gave out 500 tons of coal to Chicago's needy (and had done so in 1900 for eight straight years).

This later 1937 ad was typical of the art deco style the firm developed in its advertisements.

The company offered a very high end catalog of its wares called The Observer. Such catalogs are in great demand for students of fashion history.

1930 Observer.

The firm survived until 1986, when it fell victim to corporate raiders who forced the shuttering of the firm. It left a great legacy, and its founder Henry C. Lytton was immortalized in this little anecdote he penned about how to succeed in business, which was reprinted numerous times over the years:

"To what extent any business or other enterprise is successful is dependent primarily upon personality, the central figure in any line of activity. To what extent a personality is successful is dependent upon that personality's application of those policies ami methods that serve its ends. A personality is responsible for the success or failure of a business firm largely to the extent by which lie is enabled to organize and to control its forces—to install and apply the personal influence in his systems.

I have never known of a great business success without a personality. I have never Known of a great personality in business without a system."

Lytton left behind some great fishing tackle, too. Just ask Ron Gast!

-- Dr. Todd

For more on Henry C. Lytton, see this neat Time Magazine article from May 14, 1945:

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