Wednesday, September 14, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 24: The Fishing Tackle of W.T. Grant Stores

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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 24:

The Fishing Tackle of the W.T. Grant Stores

There were many "five and dime" stores, but as far as I know, only the W.T. Grant Co. billed itself as the "25 Cent Store." Founded in 1906 by William Thomas Grant, the Grant chain of discount stores began life in 1906 in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts (the home town of legendary rodmaker Wesley D. Jordan). It was founded with $1000 that Grant had saved as a salesman, and it was an immediate success. His business success was predicated on the idea that he should sell people what they wanted at a price they could afford.

William Thomas Grant established the Grant Foundation in 1936.

The firm quickly grew to become one of the largest of its kind in America. by 1936, Grant Stores took in nearly $100 million in sales, and had become a staple of many American communities, both large and small alike. From downtown Boston to Concord, North Carolina to Reedley, California, Grant stores were as much a part of the community as any chain in America.

Grant Common Stock from the post-World War II era.

After World War II the conservative nature of Grant's corporate culture eventually caught up with it. Despite 1200 stores, it began to founder in the 1960s and attempted too late to distinguish itself from the competition with its larger "Grant City" clones of Kresge's K-Mart stores. Perhaps because William T. Grant was still nominally in charge (he passed away in 1972 at the age of 96), the firm was unable to adapt and their fall was quick and spectacular (more on this later).

A Grants store from the 1960s.

Utah W.T. Grant ca. 1963.

The company sold a full line of sporting goods, including entry level fishing tackle. Ads from the 1920s touted fishing tackle, and in the 1930s Grant ads were declaring their stores carried "a full line of fishing tackle."

Beginning around 1950 this tackle was sold under their proprietary trade name of "Grantsport." A good example of Grantsport tackle are spinning reels; Ben Wright's Spinning Reel Reference & Identification Guide lists three different Grant reels, including the Grantsport 710 and RL-700. They also sold a spincast reel with the Grantsport logo on it.

There was other Grant marked tackle including hook tins, snelled hook holders, and even tackle boxes. There was also a line of low priced fishing rods. Most of this tackle was marked "Grantsport." All of it reflects a company that tried its best to give the customer what it wanted.

A Grantsport Model RD 440 fishing rod.

The company's fall was dramatic, and changed American corporate culture. The company's directors had unfettered control over the firm, and through a series of bad decisions (including granting store credit to anyone without background checks) foundered and failed in a period of 24 months, ending in a massive bankruptcy in 1976 (the second largest to date in American history). As a result, new rules were instituted to keep large publicly traded companies from being completely controlled by a small cadre of directors.

W.T. Grant stores lasted 70 years and left us some interesting fishing tackle. They sold tackle from the 1920s (and perhaps earlier) and many American anglers got their first rod and reel at Grant's. They were a part of the nation's fabric and their tackle, although not high-end, is worthy of collecting.

-- Dr. Todd


NObs said...

I still own, but rarely use, three rods that my Dad and I purchased at the Chambersburg, PA WT Grant store in the mid 1960's. These were, relatively speaking, high-end spincast rods, 6 feet, fiberglass, fast taper. They had a unique reel seat - spring loaded, activated by pushing the trigger (or finger rest) forward to release tension on the spring, then releasing the trigger to lock the reel in the seat. These originally sold for $15.95, but went on sale for $8.00, and finally for a final clearance price of $4.00. We bought at least 1/2 dozen of them, including a few for our friends.

Brandee Williams said...

Would anyone know how old a Grantsport Model RD 430 is?

Unknown said...

Yes please does anyone know more about the RD 430?