Wednesday, August 17, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 20: F.W. Woolworth's

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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 20:

F.W. Woolworth's

Frank Winfield Woolworth founded a true American iconic institution, and changed the way American business conducted their affair. The company he founded, F.W. Woolworth & Co., also sold a ton of fishing tackle, some of it branded.

Born in upstate New York in 1852, he began working in a drygoods store after a year of college in Watertown, New York. During his six year apprenticeship as a clerk, he noticed the hottest items were overstock or discontinued goods placed on the five cent table. In 1879, he founded his first store, selling everything for a nickel. It failed in less than a month. Undaunted, he struck out again several months later and this time, incorporated items priced at a dime. The Five-and-Ten cent store was launched.

F.W. Woolworth (1852-1919).

It was a huge hit, so large that by 1911 when the firm was incorporated, it had 586 stores. To commemorate his towering achievement he designed and constructed the Woolworth Building in New York City, a 792 foot high edifice to his success that was the tallest building in the world at the time. He paid $13.5 million in cash for it's construction.

The Woolworth Building's spire under construction.

He also built the legendary Winfield Hall in Glen Cove, Long Island, where he took up residence. So large it is reputed to have required six dozen full time gardeners, one stair case alone cost over $2 million to construct (approximately $41 million in today's terms).

When Woolworth died in 1919, the firm owned 1000s stores internationally and had a value of $1.33 billion dollars in today's terms. He left a personal estate of nearly $40 million (a half billion in today's money) and since it wasn't signed at the time of his unexpected passing, the money all went to his wife, suffering from senile dementia.

Wooworth's sold a lot of fishing tackle. Here's an example from my line spool collection; it's an early 1950s Woolworth's nylon casting line spool. The firm moved a lot of low end tackle, including a great deal of terminal tackle like lines, hooks, bobbers, etc.

In Britain, the Woolworth's line of tackle was branded Winfield and had a long run. Here's a 1970s advertisement hawking a full line of Woolworth's Winfield fishing tackle.

1970's Woolworth tackle ad in Britain.

Lures, reels, rods, and other items came branded with the Winfield name.

A quick personal story. The downtown Woolworth's in Duluth was where my father got his first job as a soda jerk in the late 1930s. He has fond memories of the place, as do I, as it only closed in the early 1990s. Dad remembers very well buying tackle there, but he doesn't remember any of it being marked, or any of it coming in packages. Lures were taken out of shipping boxes and put up on pegs on the wall. We still have a box of unmarked fluted spinners that he purchased in this way from Woolworth's in the late 1950s.

The Duluth Woolworth's where my father got his first job in the late 1930s.

Woolworth's is still around today, albeit under a different name--Foot Locker. The last U.S. Woolworth's closed in 1997, and the final British one a decade later. The only remaining Woolworth's store are in Germany. But they did indeed sell a lot of fishing tackle, and we should remember them for that, as well as for their contributions to so many aspects of 20th century American life.

-- Dr. Todd

1 comment:

Neil Watterson said...

thanks for this post, i bought a reel om gumtree which i sent of to have it professionally cleaned and greased,i asked the man who done it for me if he knew what make it was, he told me it was an old windfield reel that was made by peen in their factory but branded windfield . searched to see what the history of windfield was and found this very informative thank you