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!
Minneapolis/St. Paul was a hotbed of wholesale hardware in the 20th century. Our Own Hardware, Farwell-Ozmun-Kirk, Janney-Semple-Hill and other major firms all trafficked in a huge amount of hardware, and fishing tackle, from the heart of the Twin Cities. Our subject for today is Warner Hardware, and often overlooked but nonetheless important cog in the Twin City Wholesale Hardware machine.
Warner Hardware was founded by Frank R. Warner in 1875 in Grand Meadow, Minnesota. In 1882, Warner moved the firm to Minneapolis and was joined by his brother Richard at 338 Fifth Street Northeast. By 1888, the company moved to the corner of FIrst and Fifth in downtown Minneapolis, and in 1893 Frank bought out his brother, expanded by merging with the existing hardware firm of Gardner & Davis, and renamed the company Gardner-Warner Hardware Company. It was located at 304 Hennepin Avenue.
In 1901 Gardner was purchased out by the Warner family, and Leon C. Warner was made Vice-President of the firm which was known as just Warner Hardware from this point on. They incorporated in May of that year as well. In 1907 the company moved in to its massive building at No. 13 South Sixth Street.
The company prospered throughout the Golden Age of Wholesale Hardware (1910-1940) and was one of the very few to survive the treacherous 1950s which saw the end of such noted names as Marshall-Wells, Simmons Hardware, and others.
From the beginning Warner Hardware sold sporting goods, with a particular emphasis on those sports popular in the upper midwest. These included such seasonal sports as water skiing, skating and tobogganing as well as fishing. They carried a full line of hunting supplies as well.
They also sold a ton of fishing tackle, some of it branded with their Warner Hardware name. Perhaps the most commonly found (although all such items are scarce) are the marked line spools. Some of them were sold under their "Tuff Test" trade name.
One cool Warner item is the following matchcover advertising their "Sportsfloor" which was dedicated completely to sporting goods.
It's likely they sold other marked items, and I would bet that there are marked rods, reels and terminal tackle out there. I've only seen line spools, hook packets, and snelled hooks marked with their name, however. Some of their huge 1000+ page catalogs did contain 100 pages or more of fishing tackle. Until the 1970s Warner's held a fisherman's clinic to celebrate the opening of fishing season in early May.
The company lasted until 1989, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. I recall visiting Warner's on several occasions and remember it as being somewhat out-of-date, akin to a time machine. I do remember buying some fly tying materials there I couldn't find anywhere.
Warner was an institution in Minnesota for over a century and sold a ton of fishing tackle. To own a piece of Warner Hardware is to own a slice of Minnesota history, and a piece of fishing history, too.
-- Dr. Todd