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!
Growing up in Duluth, it is nearly impossible to escape the influence of Marshall-Wells Hardware. The company, founded in 1893, was one of the largest and most influential wholesale hardware firms of the twentieth century, serving nearly half the country and all of Canada through its five massive terminals in Portland, Winnipeg, Spokane, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The waterfront headquarters of Marshall Wells on Park Point in Duluth is still one of the largest buildings in the city.
Almost always overlooked and in the shadow of its big brother was Duluth's other large wholesale hardware merchant: Kelley-How-Thomson. They competed alongside Marshall-Wells for over half a century. The Kelley-How-Thomson Hardware Company was founded in the l890s as a tool and hardware jobber for the northern lumber and logging industries, and by the 1900s was shipping a large line of products marked Hickory, its most famous trade name, out of its South 5th Avenue warehouse in the waterfront wholesaling district of downtown Duluth.
K-H-T also had branches in a number of nearby small towns, including Proctor and Cotton. One of K-H-T’s traveling salesmen in the 1920s was John Cotter, namesake of the Cotter & Co. that would later purchase Hibbard, Spencer, & Bartlett. He would later write favorably of his time spent working for K-H-T.
The K-H-T branded tackle is usually found with the word Hickory spelled over a diamond. Marked Hickory reels, lures and hook folders have been found, and date to the pre-WWII era. It is most often found on fluted spinners, but all marked Hickory tackle is rare. K-H-T also utilized the Sportland trade name on both rods and terminal tackle.
Here are four different Kelley-How-Thomson line spools. They are presented from oldest to newest.
This is the uncommon Hickory marked K-H-T fluted spinner.
Kelley-How-Thomson was purchased by Marshall-Wells in November, 1955, after which it was to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary under its own name. It met the same fate as its parent company when Marshall-Wells’ wholesale hardware business was liquidated in 1958.
There is an interesting footnote to Kelley-How-Thomson history. In order to boost its exposure, the team sponsored a professional football team in the 1920s known as the Duluth Kelleys (after founder Martin Kelley). They became part of a fledgling organization known as the National Football League, playing such legendary teams as the Green Bay Packers and the Canton Bulldogs. With their hall-of-fame halfback Ernie Nevers, for a short time they lit up the football world, but were gone by the end of the decade. The Duluth Kelleys were immortalized recently in a movie starring George Clooney called Leatherheads, based on a history of the team called Leatherheads of the North. Its actually worth checking out sometime.
-- Dr. Todd