Fairly regularly a Champion Products “Handle Rod” shows up on Joe's Board with questions as to its identity and its age. The following ads come from the February 1951 issue of Sports Afield and the March 1957 issue of Field & Stream. I particularly like the suggestions as to where the compact Handle Rod can be carried, such as in the "glove compartment" or my personal favorite the “Brief Case.” I actually met an older man a few years ago who carried one rigged with his favorite lure in his car trunk. As he had occasion to drive, he would stop at bridges over interesting looking streams and take a few cast to satisfy his curiosity.
Handle rods were made of Beryllium-Copper a “miracle alloy” of Copper, Beryllium and selected other metals depending on the properties desired. Its common use came out of World War II where it was used as antennae on fighter aircraft. It was soon discovered that it made a very desirable fishing rod that resisted sets, metal fatigue and corrosion (even in salt water!). In 1949 there were several companies listed in Fishing Tackle Digest as producing Beryllium-Copper rods in the United States. One down side was that it was fairly expensive. The advent of cheaper fiberglass at about the same time quickly ended Beryllium-Copper's career as an everyday rod material. In the case of the telescoping “Handle Rod” however it was an ideal material. Strong, light, flexible, smooth of surface and thiner than glass, made it ideal for this application. Handle Rods were on the market for a long time. I have owned several of them and have noticed that they changed a bit in style (mostly cosmetic) and at one point in time were made in Pennsylvania.
The first time I saw one of these rods was in 1957 when I went on a canoe trip in northern Canada and my partner pulled one out of his pack. Wow! What a great idea. Fold it up and slip it into the old Duluth Pack on the portages. Take it out at the other end of the portage, extend it and take a few casts into what often amounted to virgin water. It took me another 15 years to find one, which I immediately put to good use on yearly canoe trips. Some time later a young man at work was impressed with my Handle Rod after seeing it and casually mentioned that he thought he would pick one up for his own use. My reaction was “ Good Luck, it took me 15 years to find this one!” The next week when we reported back to work he told me that he had found one on the way to work that very day in an antique store for $10. I was even more surprised when he showed me the rod as it was mint in its original packaging --- a blister pack! That was my first hint that these rods were not necessarily as old as I has assumed.
Now -- several Handle Rods later and having looked through hundreds of older “Outdoor” magazines, I find that the Handle Rod was produced well into the 1960's and one friend swears he saw an ad for it in the early 70's. There was one unforeseen problem that eventually put an end to Handle Rod production. According to Wikipedia:
“In solid form and as finished parts, beryllium-copper presents no known health hazard. However, breathing its dust or vapors, as formed when machining or welding, will eventually cause serious lung damage. Beryllium compounds are known human carcinogens when inhaled”.
Yikes! This discovery pretty much put the folks at Champion Products out of the rod making business. Though now at an age where long canoe trips and brief cases seem to be a thing of the past, I still have one Handle Rod just in case.....
-- Bill Sonnett