Wednesday, June 1, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 9: Bostwick-Braun of Toledo, Ohio

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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 IX:

The Bostwick-Braun Company of Toledo, Ohio

The Bostwick-Braun Company is one of the oldest surviving corporations in the state of Ohio. Founded in 1855 by a pair of brothers--William and Charles B. Roff--from Racine, Wisconsin, it has served the Ohio and Great Lakes region as a wholesale hardware distributor for over fifteen decades.

The Roff brothers had cut their teeth in the housewares field in New Jersey, and founded the firm of W. & C.B. Roff at 130 Summit Street in downtown Toledo. Well, I'm not sure you could consider what Toledo had at that time a downtown, as it had around 9,000 people living in the entire town, but by 1858 the company did $75,000 worth of business and its future was assured.

In 1862, the Roff Brothers hired an enterprising "drummer," as traveling salesmen were known, named Alonzo Bostwick. A veteran of the hardware trade, he made himself so indispensable that by 1865 he was made a partner, and the company's name changed to Roff & Co.

A year later the trio was joined by Carl F. Braun, a German immigrant well schooled in the hardware field, and soon after by Braun's cousin George. Both Carl (1892) and George (1904) would rise to become president of the firm. In 1868, the Brauns purchased the shares of William Roff in 1868, and when Charles Roff retired in 1873 the company became known as Bostwick, Braun & Co.

In 1865 the company had grown so quickly it moved to the corner of Monroe and St. Clair Streets to take advantage of the easy access to the Maumee River. The firm incorporated in 1893. In 1908, they constructed the massive eight story, 300,000 square foot edifice to hardware known as the Bostwick-Braun Building. It was said to have held at any time 200 million pounds of merchandise.

The massive Bostwick-Braun complex.

In 1913, Henry L. Thompson became president and ushered in a long and unbroken period of success. Often called "one of the men who made Toledo," Thompson was the firm's president until his death in 1939.

The history of Bostwick-Braun as seen through its trucks.

The company served 300+ smaller hardware stores with anything you could possibly imagine, including a great deal of fishing tackle. While it is not known whether Bostwick-Braun used a proprietary trade name, we do know they put their name on fishing tackle.

Here we see an envelope of "St. Claire" brand snelled hooks carrying the Bostwick-Braun Co. branding on the bottom. These silkworm gut snells date to the 1930s and raise the possibility that St. Clair/Claire was used as a trade name, as it was the street the firm was located on.

Bostwick-Braun gut snelled hooks.

Next we have a nice nylon casting spool from the 1950s. It is for a spool of "Ideal" line in 25 pound test, with the classic Bostwick-Braun "Anvil" logo on top. I've also seen this sticker applied to a Pflueger reel box.

A great 1950s line spool from Bostwick-Braun.

Clearly the firm trafficked in a ton of tackle. The invoice below is dated 1907 and has a tremendous selection of tackle being bought by one of their customers. The giant wholesale Bostwick-Braun catalogs are also full of fishing tackle, as seen by the pages below from the 1949 catalog.

Everything from rods to hooks to reels were bought in this order from F.C. Massey of Osborn, Ohio, dated 2/12/07.

1949 line up of fishing reels carried by Bostwick-Braun.

The firm weathered the post-war hardware apocalypse much better than most, and was still thriving throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. When economics forced a downturn, the company was purchased by its employees in 1980 and soon became one of the most successful employee-owned wholesale hardware companies in America. Bostwick-Braun served the Pro and Promart retailers, which spread across the South and the East in the 1980s.

Customers line up to hit the Bostwick-Braun store.

It is a bit unclear if the company is still in business today. In December 2010, Chris Breach was made President and COO, but the company's web site seems to have died and that is rarely (if ever) an encouraging sign. Perhaps it's just a momentary blip, because Bostwick-Braun has been a continuing success story and a wonderful link to the origins of wholesale hardware.

Letterhead for the company (courtesy Jim Garrett and Skip Brooks) showing the Bostwick-Braun Anvil trademark.

They also carried a lot of fishing tackle, and if anyone has any marked Bostwick-Braun tackle drop me a note! I'd love to see it.

-- Dr. Todd

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