Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: John Etchieson on E.R. Hewitt's Line Grease (Originally Run on October 14, 2009)

We are starting a new feature called Wayback Wednesday. Since we have several million words printed in the past eight years, and some of that info is hard to find, we are going to rerun some of our favorite pieces on Wednesdays. This one is from John Etchieson, line historian extraordinaire.

My friend John Etchieson posted this fabulous piece on Joe's Board, and since I liked it so much I asked him whether I could run this on my blog and he kindly agreed. It's a great piece of fishing history.

E.R. Hewitt's Line Grease
by John Etchieson

The historical significance of this very early wooden container of line dressing that was invented and patented by an incredible man who is considered to be a legend in the early history of fly fishing and in the late 1800s American and International Tournament Casting Competitions - Edward Ringwood Hewitt (1866 - 1957).

In researching the history of this early wooden container of "Line Grease", I have now accumulated more than 10 pages of typed notes for my book together with various pictures and copies of the many Patents that are related to E R Hewitt.

I have learned quite a bit about Hewitt's historically prominent family ties, Peter Cooper was his grandfather and Abram Stevens Hewitt was his father. 
I have also learned about his family's very close business and social connections with such famous people as J P Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Abraham Lincoln, Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt and so many other very wealthy and prominent figures from American history.

And, I also know what the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame had to say about him when he was inducted in 1999: 

"E. R. Hewitt was one of the most extraordinary individuals New York has
ever known. He was a chemist, inventor, innovator and a truly great fisherman.
His keen interest in trout fishing led him to purchase four and a
half miles on the Neversink River in 1918 where he created a hatchery
and laboratory. Soon after, Hewitt was recognized as a leading authority
on stream management and improvement. As an author, he penned several
books on angling. As an inventor, he held numerous patents, including
the felt soled wading shoe, a fishing line grease, an opaque leader, an
interchangeable fly reel and a bi-visible trout fly. His innovations make
him one of the greatest contributors in the history of fly fishing."

Hewitt is shown here at age 80 in his Laboratory on the third floor of his mansion on Gramercy Park in New York from LIFE MAGAZINE - 1946

What I do not know yet and would very much like to learn in particular from someone here on Joe's Board is this:

Was this "Hewitt Line Grease" ever even sold commercially, or was it just invented by Hewitt for his own use and for that of his very wealthy friends, whose names read like a "Whose Who" of America's most famous Industrialist and Politicians?

The street address that is given on the label shown above was Hewitt's private residence (a 35 room mansion located on Gramercy Park, in New York) where he maintained both his laboratory and workshop (Hewitt was an inventor with more than 40 Patents, including the Mack truck, to his credit) but I cannot find even a single sporting goods, fishing tackle, or hardware store AD or catalog listing for this Hewitt Line Grease in any of my pre 1910 catalogs or magazines.

Can anyone help shed some light on whether or not this particular item was ever even actually sold to the general public, and if so, when and by what firm? 

Thanks for reading my posting and for helping me to find an answer to my question.

NOTE: There were multiple follow-ups to John's original post which have now disappeared. Two particularly interesting ones are as follows:

Bill Peck wrote: "On page 26 of "Hewitts Handbook of Fly Fishing" he describes the dry floatant and says that it is available for 30 cents per box. First printing of the book is 1933."

Steve Starrantino wrote: "John I share the same enthusiasm on Hewitt as you do. I have collected his books, catalogs, bottles (some Dean now owns) and other goodies for 20 years. I have two Farlow of London pamphlets that advertise his Cast Soaker (look at the picture Dean sent. It has the Farlow label on it)and his Line Grease. The line grease sold through Farlow was in a metal tin not a wooden one. I have never seen the wooden one. William Mills sold some of his series of fly patterns and his "no flash" gut leaders. That I know for a fact. I do not have a catalog form Mills handy from the 30's or 40's to see if he sold other items through them. The leaders were also sold through Farlow as well as his Jungle Fly Preparation". It is advertised in the Pamphlet but I have never seen it. I also have hooks in a paper wrapper that is marked Hewitt hooks from Farlow. I also do believe strongly that he sold most of these items out of his Gramercy residence since there are two catalogs he published with the home address on it. Hope this helps."

Many thanks to my good friend John! Anyone with any information that might help John place this all in better context can contact him at JohnSEtch AT aol DOT com.

-- Dr. Todd


Andrew Hewitt said...


I am E.R. Hewitt's great grandson. His son, Abrams S. Hewitt II, begat my father, E.R. Hewitt II. Alas I am not Abram, but Andrew, so the cycle has been broken. The original E.R.'s Neversink property is still in the family, though the creation of the Neversink Reservior curtailed the property by 2/3rds. I cannot tell you if the "Line Grease" was ever sold commercially. However we do come across little bottles of "Leader Soak" at the house and in the lab (his laboratory). He died when I was about 3 years old.

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