Saturday, March 24, 2012

Deconstructing Old Ads: Walter Marhoff and the Marhoff Reel Company (1906)

Walter Marhoff and the Marhoff Reel Company
From the pages of the April 1908 issue of Outers Book comes this ad for the Marhoff Reel made by the Marhoff Reel Company. Though usually associated with the William Shakespeare Jr. Company, the venerable Marhoff did not start out there. No fishing reel levelwind system has stood the test of time longer than that invented so long ago by Walter Marhoff of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

It would be difficult to imagine better documented research into the early days of the Shakespeare company than that done by Eric Jeska of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Eric also happens to be the grandson of William Shakespeare Jr., founder of the company. Eric has very kindly allowed us to use the following quote which represents an abbreviated version of only a small portion of his otherwise exhaustive work on William Shakespeare Jr.'s personal and professional life and his deep friendship with Walter Marhoff.
"In the Summer of 1906 Walter Marhoff left the Shakespeare Reel Works.  The Kalamazoo City Directory listed him as an architect, and it was then that he developed his own design of level-wind bait-casting reels on which he was able to adapt and perfect the single endless-thread or cross-thread carriage screw. A patent was issued to the Marhoff Reel Company on October 23rd, 1906 for this reel, although he had already applied for a patent to improve this reel just the day before. Marhoff next received a patent for a non-level winding reel with an improved brake, another for a quick take-a-part reel frame, and still another patent for end-cap thrust bearings. His level-winding reels were improved in a May 1907 patent with a modification to the wire line-guide, more similar now to the Shakespeare design, but with a slotted shaft above to support the top of the line-guide.  These reels were made in the Shakespeare factory under special arrangement similar to the manufacturing arrangements for the private label reels that Shakespeare was to later make for the South Bend Bait Company.
By May of 1908 William Shakespeare acquired the patent rights to the Marhoff level winding reel design. Whether Walter Marhoff relinquished his patent to Shakespeare because the Marhoff Reel Company was in financial trouble, or due to his failing health is unclear.  From the individual serial numbers we know that slightly more than one thousand reels were produced with the Marhoff Reel Company name. Of these only a few  have survived, making this reel a scarce collector's item.
Walter Marhoff died at his Forest Street home on the day before his 39th birthday on October 25th, 1908, after having suffered from a long illness with tuberculosis. His friends had seen him working at the Shakespeare Reel Works and walking around town only a few days earlier. His body was laid to rest at Mountain Home Cemetery in Kalamazoo on a hillside overlooking the town."

Photo courtesy Eric Jeska.

"In January of 1909 Wm. Shakespeare Jr. filed for the dissolution of the Marhoff Reel Company and took over the business of his good friend, only two years after Marhoff developed the reel that would ultimately become the level-wind design standard for the entire tackle industry.
Mr. Shakespeare was deeply saddened by the loss of his good friend. He paid tribute to Marhoff’s innovation and genius by placing the “Marhoff Reel” in a position of prominence in the catalogs, its basic design virtually unchanged throughout William Shakespeare’s life, and by continuing to recognize Walter Marhoff at service award banquets for decades."

Thank you, Eric, for that great history of Walter Marhoff. Finally, we present here a few pictures of a genuine Marhoff Reel Company reel. Reel number #582 of just over 1000 produced in 1907.

-- Bill Sonnett

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