Wednesday, August 10, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 19: Scheel's Hardware of Minnesota

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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 19:

Scheel's Hardware of Minnesota

Scheel's is a name that is very familiar to most people from my part of the country--Minnesota. They also sold fishing tackle for a great number of years.

The firm was founded in 1902 by Frederick A. Scheel, who opened a general store in the small town of Sabin, Minnesota, not far from where my father-in-law grew up in the Red River Valley between Minnesota and North Dakota. As a general history of the firm declared, "The total cost of the store was $600."

The store prospered and likely carried rudimentary fishing tackle at the time (hooks, lines, etc.) as most general stores did. In 1919, Frederick M. Scheel purchased the store from his father.

By the 1920s, Scheel was so successful he enrolled in the new Marshall Wells Associate Store program, giving him access to the Duluth hardware wholesaling giants line of Zenith products -- including its massive line of Zenith fishing tackle. In 1928, he purchased two existing hardware stores in Fargo and Moorhead and made both of them part of the Marshall Wells family. Soon after he expanded to Casselton, Hillsboro, and Fairmount in North Dakota.

The founder's grandson Frederick B. Scheel joined the firm after college. He left to fly a corsair in the Pacific and upon his return resumed his position at Scheel's, indulging in a lifelong passion for photography. He later penned two books and became a great benefactor for the photographic arts.

Frederick B. Scheel's obituary photo.

A wonderful example of Fred B. Scheel's (1921-2011) photography.

Following the war, Scheel's jumped in with both feet into the sporting goods market, so much so that it eventually began to squeeze out the other, less profitable, general line of hardware. With new stores opening up across the North/South Dakota-Minnesota region, Scheel's was a fast growing concern. By the 1970s sporting goods were carrying the Scheel's empire.

The only piece of marked Scheel's tackle I've seen is a wonderful pair of line spools found in their original box. They have a great leaping bass graphic on them, and almost certainly date from approximately 1955.

Scheel's was incorporated in 1974 (headquarters in Billings, Montana) but the center of the Scheel's world was always Fargo, North Dakota. By 1984 sporting goods made up 50% of sales. By the year 2000 there were over 20 Scheel's stores including five megastores (100,000+ square feet).

Begun by a German immigrant in a tiny Minnesota town, Scheel's became a classic Gopher state success story, and as it enters its twelfth decade in business, it looks like Scheel's will be around for another century or more.

-- Dr. Todd

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