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A History of the Shakespeare Co.
Honor Built- Honor Sold

Eric Foster Jeska

Ad from 1924 Outdoor Life
Few of today's anglers are aware that the Shakespeare Company name and trademark were at one time associated with products of the finest obtainable quality. While it is true that the Shakespeare Company has always produced tackle with "Every man" in mind, the company has also produced, at one time or another, tackle of such high quality that it commanded the respect and envy of the trade, and invoked a great sense of pride in the tackle owner. The capability of the Shakespeare Company to produce high quality tackle is obvious to anyone who has seen the full-jeweled Deluxe "Professional" level winding reel, with its hand-engraved fishing scene on its nickel-silver alloy head and tail plates; or the beautiful "Miller Autocrat" big game salt-water reel.

However, it must be remembered that the Shakespeare Company's longevity was due in part to its ability to produce good affordable products during America's many economic recessions and depressions, which so often left men without work, but gave them plenty of time to fish. Several of the other tackle manufacturers, who did not enjoy such a broad base of support, and who emphasized high-end tackle only, now belong to the distant past.

The Shakespeare Company founder, William Henry Shakespeare, Jr., was born on September 21st, 1869 in Kalamazoo Michigan, at a time of seemingly endless economic depression which had plagued America from the mid-1850's to the 1890's.

His father, William H. Shakespeare, was Michigan's youngest soldier to fight in the Civil War, enlisting at the age of seventeen. Upon hearing the news of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the young William Shakespeare was the first volunteer from Kalamazoo to step forward and form Company K of the 2nd Michigan Infantry on April 12th, 1861.

He enlisted as a Corporal, and had obtained the rank of First Sergeant by 1863 after fighting in such engagements as Blackburn's Forge, Bull Run 1st, Bailey's Cross Roads, Munson's Hill, Fair Oaks, Yorktown, White Oak Swamp, Malverns Hill, Bull Run 2nd, Chantilly, and Fredericksburg. He was wounded by a bullet through both legs at the hips, and by other bullets that struck him as he lay wounded on the battlefield during an infantry charge on enemy lines at Jackson Mississippi on July 11th, 1863. The young Sergeant was not expected to survive, and was told by the surgeon that he had only hours to live, and was awarded a battlefield promotion to Brigadier General. He barely survived the 33 day transfer from Mississippi through Confederate lines to a General Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio where he lay for the next nine months recovering from his injuries.

Upon his discharge in the summer of 1864, he quickly re-settled into civilian life in Kalamazoo, obtained a law degree and entered into a law practice with his friend Nathanial Balch. He served as Quartermaster General for the State of Michigan from 1883 to 1884. In 1896, he opened the Central Bank of William Shakespeare, and continued to serve as an officer in the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic).

Such precociousness seems to have been a familial trait. One warm spring morning, while on his way to school, the young Wm. Shakespeare, Jr. came upon two men with a fishing rod and reel. The unusual manner in which they manipulated the tackle caused him to pause and watch with great interest and curiosity, being himself an enthusiastic and competent angler. The man holding the rod had attached a small weight to the end of the line, and after making his cast, attempted to reel the line back onto the spool evenly with a rather crude device which he had made for this purpose. The men were getting frustrated when the invention wouldn't work, due to what Shakespeare recognized as a fault of design and gross mechanical inaccuracies. The inventor threw the rod and reel to the ground in anger and declared that "It ain't possible to make one (level-wind reel) that'll work."

"I think it is possible," the young Shakespeare answered, "and someday I'll make one that will work." This remark was met with laughter, and a red-faced William Shakespeare Jr. went on his way.

In 1888 at the age of 19, William Shakespeare Jr. resigned his clerk's position at M. Israel and Company, a Kalamazoo dry goods store, to work for George F. Green, the inventor of the electric street car, electric dental drill, and pneumatic photo shutter.

Then in 1889, Shakespeare formed a partnership with Garrett W. Low, and founded the Kalamazoo Shutter Company, building precision behind-the-lens camera shutters. Shakespeare and Low received several patents between 1890 and 1893 for photo shutters. It was during this time that he began using his mechanical abilities to create elegant casting reels for his friends. "Soon", he said, "I had a great many friends". It was also during this period that the principles for the level-wind mechanism were finally visualized by the young man, as he sat on the edge of his bed pulling off his sock. "It seems senseless, perhaps, to mention the sock," Shakespeare later told in a newspaper interview, "but very likely men who call themselves psychologists would say that it was important."

One can almost imagine the young man tracing a spiral pattern with his finger across his Argyle sock, and creating a mental picture of his idea.

Despite the economic hardships of the times, Shakespeare's business flourished due to the high demand for camera shutters by the many photographic studios which sprang up in small towns all across America in an attempt to capitalize on the public's new fascination with the modern techniques in photography which had rendered the delicate and costly deurragotype, ambrotype, and tintypes obsolete.

With the even more promising outlook of new wide-spread economic growth in the early 1890's, William Shakespeare Jr. became engaged to his long-time sweetheart, Miss Cora Monroe, and the two were married on November 10th of 1892.

For five years he devoted much of his spare time to designing and crafting his level-winding reel concept into a physical reality. Once perfected, Shakespeare filed for the patent rights for his "fish-line reel" on May 13th, 1897 and was awarded patent #591,086 on October 5th, 1897 for his invention. He was now prepared, with some financial assistance from his fathers' bank, to produce for the angling world the first functional level-winding reel, the "Style C."

This was not the first patent for a level-winding reel. Other level-winding reels and devices had been patented now and then for nearly forty years earlier by other inventors. It was, however, the first functional level-winding mechanism to be issued a patent, and this is an important distinction. A unique feature of this reel was its use of two parallel carriage screws between which traveled a looped line-guide on a block, instead of the single endless-thread carriage screw which had been tried unsuccessfully by other reel inventors. The earliest "Style C" reels have screws only on the head plate, while later reels were improved with screws holding the reel foot on both head and tail plates for added strength.

The Shakespeare Reel Works was first located in a four story storage building on Water Street in Kalamazoo that had once housed the Hanselman Candy Company. William Shakespeare Jr. had rented this building since 1889 for his camera shutter business, and together with Walter E. Marhoff and twelve other employees, crafted his elegant handmade oxidized silver-plated reels on the third floor using the same small jewelers lathes and watchmakers tools that were used for making the photo shutters.

The first Shakespeare catalog, titled "The Fine Points of a Reel," featured only this reel, called simply The Shakespeare Reel, Style C. Garrett Low died before the two partners received their final photographic shutter patent in June of 1900, and Shakespeare received another patent for a fishing rod handle that same month.

Shakespeare's young wife Cora died on January 15th of 1901 from "consumption" or tuberculosis, a disease which was ravaging the nation, leaving William Jr. as the single parent to his two young children, Mildred and Monroe.

A few weeks later, on February 5th, Shakespeare received the patent rights for a 'mechanical bait,' which he and Wm. Locher, a local sporting goods retailer, had applied for in July of 1900. This lure was marketed as the "Revolution" bait, and was basically a pair of wooden floats with spinner blades and hooks attached. Another more complex "Revolution" lure, which replaced the wooden floats with watertight aluminum floats, was patented on April 9th, 1901.

A second reel design was submitted for patent on April 27th, 1901 and the patent for this non-level winding "Vom Hoff" style reel was issued on November 12th. This elegant little reel was made of jet black hard rubber with decoratively turned pillars and handsome silver plated end plates. Like the "Style C," this "Quadruple" reel featured a thumb controlled slide to engage the click. And like the "Style C", it too was marked "Handmade."

Also in April of that same year, Shakespeare became a partner in the Yonkerman Chemical Company, which soon occupied half of his factory's third floor and produced the copper sulfate consumption "remedy" called Tuberculozine.

It appears that he continued to build camera shutters as the mainstay of his business, since the Kalamazoo city directory for 1901 listed him as manager of Kalamazoo Shutter Company at that same address, and his interests in the shutter company were not sold to Garrett Low's widow until January 16th, 1902. However, a greater interest toward fishing tackle was beginning to emerge. Mr. Shakespeare knew of the differing needs of fishermen and sought about to satisfy the varying tastes of anglers who would buy practically any fishing tackle gizmo if it were well made, and if it worked well he knew that they would buy even more.

The 1902 Shakespeare catalog added three new reel models: The Service, The Standard, and The Professional. These reels were stated to be precision made to within one four-thousandth of an inch from the finest German nickel silver and English Stubbs steel, and ranged in price from $5.00 to $15.00, and this new catalog also included bait casting rods, lures, and lines.

Mr. Shakespeare re-married on December 23rd, 1902 to his daughter's school teacher, Miss Lhea West. In 1903, the Shakespeare catalog introduced the Level Winding Reel "Style B" which was built of nickel-plated hard-drawn brass and featured the newly patented Shakespeare-Marhoff Harmonic Click and Graduated Drag which helped to eliminate "backlash", or the tendency of the reel spool to continue spinning from inertia after the lure had slowed down, creating a terrible tangle in the line, as the spool continues to unwind line that has nowhere to go.

The following year, Mr. Shakespeare added his new "Style A" Level Wind reel to the 1904 catalog. This reel was essentially the same as the "Style B" only made from German nickel silver by Mr. Shakespeare himself, with a beautifully hand engraved "Shakespeare" on the head plate. This reel was priced at $35.00, which was, incidentally, the cost of a good horse in those days.

Reel collectors are often puzzled as to why the Style "C" came first before Style "B", then "A". It is the authors opinion that there were probably two unsuccessful prototypes (A and B) prior to the Style "C". Then, for marketing purposes, the later reels were designated as "B" and later "A" to emphasize to the angling public that the improvements were unique and substantial, and worthy of the price increase. A close examination of the original patent drawings clearly shows a very different reel design from the reel which we know as "Style C."

Some have speculated that the original A & B reels were the non-level wind reels that he made for his friends, but didn't patent. Obviously Mr. Shakespeare knew the importance of patents through his other enterprises, and I cannot believe that he would have neglected to patent his own reels, nor infringe on another maker's patent by reproducing similar reels for his friends.

Perhaps he named it "Style C" (a name which was already in use for the largest capacity Yawman & Erbe automatic fly reel) in an attempt to disguise the fact that his level wind reel would only hold 60 yards of line instead of the standard 100 yards that other non-level wind reels of that size could hold.

Or maybe he named the "Style C" after his young bride Cora. At this point we can only look back and speculate until documents are discovered which reveal the true answer.

Mr. Shakespeare has been credited with the early use and advancement of the short rod, which he felt would make the new sport of bait casting easier for the novice to learn. The only rods listed in the catalogs in those early years were bait casting rods, in nine models, and all were 5-1/2 foot long.

Grade #1 was an all-wood two-piece rod with and ash butt and lancewood tip. Grade #2 was a two-piece un-split bamboo rod. Grade #3 was a three-piece lancewood rod with a spare tip. Grades #4 through #9 were built of split-bamboo in a three-piece design with an extra tip, and varied in grade with additions of cork grips, closeness in the intervals of silk windings and nickel-silver reel seats and ferrules. These rods ranged in price from seventy-five cents to fifteen dollars, and like the early Heddon rods, were built by the former Hiram Leonard Rod Company apprentice, Fred D. Divine of Utica, New York.

Lures were the money-makers for the early business, and the company was simply breaking even on the reels due to the amount of hand craftsmanship necessary. The early lures were The Evolution (a rubber minnow imitation), The Revolution, The Sure-Lure, The Shakespeare-Worden Bucktail Spinner, and The Tournament Frog. The profits from these immensely successful baits made it possible for the Shakespeare Reel Works to move with its employees and business into the old traction building of the Inter-urban Railroad nearby on November 26th, 1904.

During the annual employee vacation on the last week in July of 1905, the entire plant was shut down so that machinery could be overhauled, and during this down-time a new department was added to the factory, a complete bamboo rod building shop, headed by Mr. Thomas Perry of Redditch, England. Mr. Perry brought with him over 30 years experience of rod-making skills to the Company.

On November 8th, 1905, the company incorporated, authorizing $250,000.00 in stock, and changed its name to the Wm. Shakespeare Jr. Company, adding $30,000.00 worth of automatic machinery. Arthur L. Burrell was named Vice President, and Fred Green was the Secretary.

It was during this period that Wm. Shakespeare Jr. bought the Kalamazoo Fishing Tackle Company and its machinery from its owner, Jay B. Rhodes, another local inventor who patented a mechanical frog lure. Jay Rhodes also owned the patent rights for "The Rhodes' Perfect Casting Minnow" which had been patented on December 13th, 1904 by his nephew Fred D. Rhodes, and which had been improved upon by Jay with the addition of a clip hook-hanging hardware. Fred Rhodes had operated his own lure and rod making and repairing (and bicycle repairing) business from within his home on Bush Street, and advertised his wooden minnow as "the best bait on earth." Fred continued to make the lures for Shakespeare after his uncle Jay sold the business, at least until Mr. Shakespeare became dissatisfied with the poor quality workmanship that Fred was providing.

The Wm. Shakespeare Jr. Company was now into the wooden lure, rod, and line manufacturing business, and Shakespeare's marketing expertise soon made his wooden minnow lures one of the most popular baits among sportsmen, and the most copied by his competitors. Carl J. Veley was the employee who made the first Shakespeare wooden minnow. Another local inventor, Bert O. Rhodes (Jay B. Rhodes older brother) assigned his July 3rd, 1906 patent for yet another mechanical rubber frog lure to Wm. Shakespeare Jr., and this lure also became a sensation with bass anglers across the nation.

A Shakespeare employee, Walter Marhoff, developed his own design of level-wind baitcasting reel, on which he was able to adapt and perfect the single endless-thread carriage screw. A patent was issued to the Marhoff Reel Company on October 23rd, 1906, and his reels were improved in 1907 with the addition of a looped wire line-guide, similar to the Shakespeare design, but with a slotted shaft 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 making for the South Bend Bait Company and others.

Marhoff died suddenly 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 Company and walking around town only a few days earlier. 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 become the level-wind design standard for the entire tackle industry.

Mr. Shakespeare was deeply saddened by the loss of his good friend, and paid tribute to Marhoff's inventive genius by placing the "Marhoff Reel" in a position of prominence in the catalogs, its design virtually unchanged throughout Shakespeare's life, and by continuing to recognize him at service award banquets for decades.

By 1910, The Wm. Shakespeare Jr. Company employed 100 workers, and had three full-time salesmen traveling the railways selling tackle all across the nation to the far reaches of the still-wild West. In 1913 a new factory was built at 417 North Pitcher street which became the permanent Kalamazoo location.

In the early months of 1913 Mr. Shakespeare was in court defending his Rhoades Wooden Minnow patent against the Enterprise Manufacturing Company, a company in Akron, Ohio commonly known as Pflueger. Shakespeare won the suit, and Pfleuger had to stop producing its "Wizzard Minnow" and "Monarch Minnow" which had copied the hook hanger assembly patented earlier by Rhodes.

The Wm. Shakespeare Jr. Company was now making 23 different bait casting reel models; the "Uncle Sam," "Universal," "Criterion," "Precision," Service," Tournament," "Intrinsic," "Perfect," "Standard Professional," "Royal," "Expert," "Pilot," "Crown," "Triumph," "Crescent," "Vom Hoff's Patent," "Marquette," "Level Wind B," "Level Wind A, " "Kalamazoo," "Ideal," "Marhoff," and "Professional Level Wind".

On August 9th, 1913, Monroe Shakespeare (then 14 years old) was involved in an accident in which he drove his fathers car into the buggy of Dr. Wilbur. Fortunately, neither Monroe nor the doctor were injured. Then only two days later, Monroe broke his arm while cranking the automobile. These two incidences led the Kalamazoo City Council to adopt an ordinance prohibiting persons under the age of 18 from driving a car.

On September 2, 1915 the official company name was changed to The Shakespeare Company. In spite of the shortages of manpower and metals during WWI (a war which was popularly known as "The Big Fuss") from 1914 to 1918, the company continued to make its fishing tackle, and volunteered to manufacture trench mortar fuses under a government sub-contract.

Three single-action trout reels were available in the early 1920's, The Winner, The Featherweight, and The Kazoo. All three were Shakespeare's versions of the earlier Meisselbach reels, simplified for mass production methods. The same was true for the Russell single action fly reel which was introduced in 1926. It was designed by Shakespeare's chief reel designer and engineer Samuel Guy Russell, who had previously patented the new method of riveting the reel foot in 1920, although many features of the Russell reel were taken from Mr. Shakespeare's personal "St. George" reel made by the famous Hardy Brothers in England, which was purchased as the model for the purpose of duplicating. The Shakespeare Automatic fly reels were introduced in 1922, and were made in three line capacity sizes.

It was around this same time that Mr. Shakespeare and four other Kalamazoo sportsmen, Dr. Rudolph Gilkey, Dr. Ralph Balch, Attorney George McClelland, and Dr. Augustus Warren Crane (the internationally famous X-Ray pioneer) purchased a hotel in Northern Michigan. This spot on the Manistee River was known as Jam #1 during the logging days only a few decades earlier, and now served as their "up north" trout fishing retreat. This old hotel, along with a vast tract of logged-over, and burned-over land in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula became the Sharon Properties Association, otherwise known to the members as the "Knockers Club." A report of the annual meeting held on November 31st, 1924 under the Jam 1 Bridge on the Manistee, contained the following motion:

"Moved by Brother Dryflysky that Wm. Shakespeare, Jr. be assessed four automatic reels for not showing up during the season of 1924."

The motion carried unanimously. Another report, dated June 2nd 1926, discussing cabin repairs and improvement costs, states:

"Shakespeare seems to have a little of the best of the improvements but he has promised to keep all members in tackle for the rest of their natural lives, so we can afford to waive our claim against him."
Later, Dr. Balch penned this letter to his old friend:

". . .As I look back it seems to me that the happiest hours that I have spent have been with your products in my hand. Many of the hours were with you beside me in the boat or near by on the stream, and so there was added pleasure. We can remember sail fish as they burst from the gulf stream and walked on their tails as they tried to throw the hook. The bright sun, the blue water with the white foam flying. We can think of the flashing strike of the blue fish in the surf or the heavy tug of the channel bass. But I think more often our thoughts will turn to the waters of the Manistee and the light rod bending with the surge of a rainbow or the sharp smash of the brookie. So old friend, 'Here is to the days that have gone and a double draft to the days to come. Be they few or many may they be spent with a rod in our hands and peace in our souls.

Around 1920, Mr. Shakespeare bought three bamboo fly rods which were the finest available American rods of the times and sought to combine the best features of each of these rods into one rod, a composite, to become Shakespeare's best bamboo fly rod. These fly rods were made in a three piece design with serrated and blued nickel-silver ferrules, an agate stripping guide, and a polished aluminum and walnut reel seat. The rod featured a swell of the bamboo above the grip, and the delicate gold silk windings tipped in black graced the guides, intermediates, and cluster wraps found at the swell of the butt section.

Mr. Shakespeare's son, Henry, remembered that as a boy, he was able to persuade the Shakespeare rod makers to build a lancewood bow complete with split-bamboo arrows, for his own use.

Henrys' early recollections also include wandering through the Shakespeare fly tying room, watching skilled hands tie the beautiful Montreals, Scarlet Ibis', and other wet flies. Although the "Iroquois Double Divided Wing" dry flies were imported from England, the "Chippewa" bass flies, "St. Joe River" bass flies, "Shakespeare Hoppers," and "Spring Brook" wet flies were all tied in Kalamazoo. Later, all flies were supplied by Glen L. Evans, Inc. of Caldwell, Idaho, and the Weber Lifelike Fly Company of Stevens Point Wisconsin.

Bamboo rod production at the Shakespeare Factory ceased in the early 1930's due to the heavy pressures of the failing economy on what had always been a money-losing venture for the Company.

The "Great Depression" nearly bankrupted the company by 1932. Mr. Shakespeare met with the employees to let them know that if the situation got much worse, wages would have to be cut. He promised that the salaries of all management and executives, including his own, would be cut before the wages of any employees.

Mr. Shakespeare went to Chicago, and then to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to secure loans from the major banks in order to continue operations. Emergency loan arrangements were finally made when he found empathetic bankers in, as he referred to it, the "city of brotherly love," Philadelphia.

Arrangements were made for Horrocks-Ibbotson of Utica New York (formerly the Fred Divine Rod Company) to once again manufacture the bamboo rods under the Shakespeare name. Later, bamboo rods were made by South Bend Company in Indiana, Montague Rod Company of and the Heddon Company of Dowagiac Michigan.

The Shakespeare Company held a long termed relationship with Horrocks-Ibbotson Co., and its predecessor the Clark-Horrocks Co., as competitor, supplier, and customer. A letter from Edward D. Ibbotson dated May 16, 1947 states:

"Well do I remember the first day I met you when you came to Utica to see our concern. Then a few months latter I climbed up the stairs in the old building and wandered around in various rooms and finally found you hard at work developing a new level wind reel."

Although Mr. Shakespeare was ever vigilant to protect his patents from unauthorized usage, he was at the same time very willing to help his competitors when they needed his advice or assistance, and he was called upon to assist these fledgling tackle companies often.

In a letter dated May 27, 1947 to Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Ivar Hennings of the South Bend Bait Company wrote:

"Very clearly do I recall visiting you at Kalamazoo along about 1912, and how graciously you agreed to again start manufacturing reels for us and did so speedily to help us out. Also well do I recall a meeting in Cleveland a few years later when you informed the so-called, in those days, prominent fishing tackle manufacturers that our company was or would become a factor in this field."

When W. F. Eger of Barlow Florida dreamed up the idea of his now famous Eger Dillinger bait in 1935, he could not find a supplier for the spinners, hooks, eyelets, and screw eyes. No manufacturer would furnish the small quantities that he needed. Mr. Shakespeare told his Sales Manager to sell Mr. Eger anything he needed. Marathon Bait Company of Wausau Wisconsin was in its infancy in 1932 when it needed and received "helpful and sage advice" from him, and Louis J. Eppinger (of Dardevel fame) felt that Mr. Shakespeare's assistance was essential to the success of his business.

Employees of the Company received frequent visits in the factory from Mr. Shakespeare, and he knew them all by name, as well as the names of their wives, husbands and children.

Shakespeare Products Company was formed in 1921 and was made up from the Kalamazoo Fibre Broom Company and The LoVis Company, which manufactured can openers and parts for the "Roamer" automobile. This was not Shakespeare's first attempt to diversify. In the past twenty years he had been a partner in two patent medicine companies, the Prof. Stephen G. Burridge Co. LTD and the Yonkerman Consumption Remedy Company, manufacturer of the tonic 'Tuberculozyne'. In 1911 he had developed and patented a gasoline carburetor, and among his other personal involvements were a roller rink and movie theater (The Kalamazoo Amusement Palace), and a corset manufacturing company, the Kalamazoo Corset Company.

The trade name of the "Kalamazoo Tackle Company" was reinstated by the Shakespeare Company in 1935 for the purpose of manufacturing a line of less expensive bait casting and flyfishing reels, allowing Shakespeare to sell directly to dealers, eliminating the "jobbers" or distributors and keeping the costs and prices down where they could compete with the other discount brands on the market. This new division added 20,000 feet of factory space and was supervised by Monroe.

In 1939 the Shakespeare Company introduced Mr. Shakespeare's latest reel concept and design, the "Wondereel", which incorporate several new features including an automatic compensating adjustment cap on the spool end bearings, and improved drag mechanism.

During the Second World War the skilled Shakespeare craftsmen worked around the clock on National Defence Work, and used their precision machines to make the Norden bomb sights, the Sperry .50 caliber automatic computing sights, self-locking irreversible quadrants for naval planes, and flexible controls for tanks. The company was awarded three of the prestigious Army/Navy "E" awards for excellence along with a Silver Star for its role in helping the war effort. Post war production resumed the manufacture of the choke controls for carburetors at the Products Company.

In 1944, Dr. Arthur M. Howald, Technical Director for the Plaskon Division of Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company, was on a trout fishing trip in northern Michigan when he broke the tip of his pet bamboo rod. Because replacement tips were impossible to obtain during the war, he used his knowledge of glass fibre/Plaskon resin fabrication to attempt a replacement tip of fiberglass.

Although it proved to be satisfactory, he continued to experiment with rods made entirely of fiberglass. Dissatisfied with these results, he revealed his experiments to Mr. Shakespeare's son, Henry Shakespeare, the Company's new Vice President and General Manager.

Dr. Howald asked Henry what the ideal rod should cast like, and Henry told him that no one had yet made an ideal rod, since each fisherman and each fishing situation would require a different rod action in order to be considered "ideal". Dr. Howald then wanted to meet with the foremost authorities on fly rod casting and rod design. He met with Paul H. Young, the famous bamboo rod maker from Detroit, on the North Branch of the Au Sable river, and later with Henry's friend Charles Ritz of France. Howald returned from these meetings with the impression that there was room for two more flyrod authorities, namely Henry and himself.

Patent rights were secured to produce the world's first fiberglass fishing rod, the "Howald Glastik Wonderod," and Henry put the Shakespeare Company back into the rod making business.

At the Tackle Manufacturer Association meeting that year, the president of the Montague Rod Company asked Henry if he was not making a big mistake in thinking that the American angler would abandon split-bamboo for a fiberglass rod costing nearly sixty dollars, and speculated that perhaps they might sell fifteen or twenty rods in the first year. "We already have orders for that many thousand!" Henry replied.

The first "Wonderod" test rods were made as flyrods, made up from natural gray colored fiberglass blanks and had bright nickel silver ferrules. The first "Wonderods" to appear on the market in 1947 were bait-casting rods, since casting rod tapers were easily designed, and fly-rod tapers were more complex. Flyrod Wonderods were available to the public later that same year. These first production "Wonderods" fly rods were model #1390, a 8-1/2 ft. three piece weighing under five ounces, and model #1290 7'9" two piece weighing three and one-half ounces. Both sported the now familiar milky-white colored fiberglass shaft with the spiral markings of the cellophane wrap, and featured a genuine agate stripping guide, serrated nickel-silver ferrules finished in black, and a ring hook keeper.

By 1949, there were two more fly rod Wonderods added to the product line; Model #1288 7 foot Fly/Spin combination weighing four and one half ounces , and model #1289 7'3" weighing 3.4 ounces.

For the purpose of product testing, and possibly a little bit of publicity, the top section of a fiberglass Wonderod was attached to the main door of the Kalamazoo offices, so that the rod would flex each time the door was opened.

Old Bill Shakespeare was justly proud of his new Wonderods, and never passed up an opportunity to demonstrate his rods' ability to withstand the strain of being flexed in a tip-to-butt arch. During one such session of showmanship at the factory, the rod fractured at the ferrule, and an embarrassed Mr. Shakespeare marched down to the office of the plant manager with the splintered rod in his clenched fist, and made his displeasure known.

Bamboo rods took a back seat to the new fiberglass, and they were practically hidden on the last page of the Shakespeare catalog. The Company no longer purchased bamboo rods to sell, and the ones which did appear in the catalogs were residual stock only. The new Wonderod sold for $49.50, and the bamboo Triumph, Premier, Au Sable and Spring Brook models sold for $15.00.

It was Henry who introduced the new "President" Direct-Drive bait-casting reels, which were really more similar to the original "Style C" reel first made over fifty years earlier by his father, than the later quadruple geared reels that the "Style C" had evolved into.

In a "Swing to Spin" Henry introduced spinning tackle to the Shakespeare line in the early '50s with his patented closed face spinning reel, the Model 1810, which could be mounted below the hand on a fly rod. His father was not as enthusiastic about spin fishing, and had once commented on the new technique, saying "Hell, that ain't fishin'."

The notion that William Shakespeare Jr. was a Communist may surprise some, but was by no means a secret at the time. The national mood after the Great Depression could have easily shifted to the political extreme of Communism had it not been for the guidance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Mr. Shakespeare's corporate policies reflected his socialist beliefs through his commitment to his employees' welfare, which was unknown by the vast majority of corporate managers in those days.

He initiated the first credit union for his workers, and a profit sharing plan that split the profits between shareholder and employee. This resulted in a bonus of between $100 and $300 dollars per year for each employee. During the depression years, he managed to provide work for all his employees by reducing the hours that each worked. He also provided Life and Medical Insurance for his workers. Mr. Shakespeare was elected to the office of Mayor of Kalamazoo from 1933 to 1935, and was instrumental in the adoption of many public policies, such as the Barter and Trade Commission, which allowed an out-of-work man to maintain his dignity and provide for his family by swapping services for goods.

After the end of the Second World War the Shakespeare Company entered a new era of prosperity, largely due to the ability of the plant to quickly resume the manufacture of fishing tackle, but mostly to the developments of the new fiberglass rods and popularity of past-time activity of spin fishing in general by the returning soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

The new President of Shakespeare, Henry Shakespeare, lead the Company during this prosperous era, allowing his father to spend much of his time in Melbourne Florida fishing for sailfish and tarpon, and hunting turkeys. Henry helped to oversee the purchase of the Soo Valley Line Company in Estherville, Iowa. This acquisition enabled the Shakespeare Company to manufacture the new "Wexford" braided nylon fishing line, and fly lines.

In 1948 Mr. Shakespeare remarried for the third time to Mrs. Alice Rebecca Jeska, herself a widow since 1925, and an acquaintance whom he had known for more than 20 years through mutual friends. He used this "retirement/ honeymoon" to start two new business ventures, the Melbourne Broadcasting Company, and the Federal Home Mortgage Association.

It was the turkey hunting that truly captured William Shakespeare Jr.'s interests in his later years. Evening hours were spent sitting in his favorite red leather chair testing his handmade cedar turkey call boxes, and the house would be filled with the sounds of sandpaper and 'squaaks'. His turkey call may have proved to be too good in fact, for he was accidentally shot by one of his hunting partners, and took several pellets in the leg.

The darkest chapter of the Company's history unfolded on September 7th of 1948, when the Steelworkers Union (CIO), of which only 30-40% of the employees belonged, declared a strike against the Shakespeare Company. The Management didn't recognize the Union as a representative of the majority, and the contract with the Union was ended. All employees were invited back to work on September 11th.

Picketers clashed with "scab" employees on October 11th at the entrance gate, and several employees were injured. Then on December 1st a mob of 300 attacked the factory and wrecked the plant. Cars and trucks were overturned and set ablaze. Windows throughout the factory and office were smashed. Huge inventories of reel parts were destroyed. Michigan's Governor Sigler was flown in and the National Guardsmen were put on alert. On September 21st of 1949 the courts ruled that the strike was illegal, and picketing ended on October 10th.

Dismayed over the fact that so many of the employees had turned against him, Mr. Shakespeare retreated to his winter home in Melbourne, Florida, where he died a few months later on June 25th, 1950.

Henry moved the Soo Valley Line Company from Iowa to Columbia, S.C. where the rod factory was already producing Wonderods and fiberglass radio antennas.

The Shakespeare Push-button Wondercast Reel was introduced in 1957, and the company was so certain that it would gain wide appeal to men, women, and children that it launched a special advertising campaign showing how easy it was to use. The revolutionary design for the Wondercast was a collaboration between Henry Shakespeare and his t op reel engineers Earl Clickner and Dale Harrington.

The first folding bail style spinning reel was added to the catalog in 1959, and in that same year the Shakespeare Company acquired the assets of Parabow Archery, Inc. of Waverly, Ohio, and began manufacturing Shakespeare fiberglass and wood bows and other archery accessories.

By 1960, the Shakespeare Company was a leader in fiberglass development in the United States and expanded into a variety of fiberglass product.

The reel manufacturing facility was moved from the Kalamazoo plant to Fayetteville, Arkansas and began operations on January 1st, 1965. At the same time, a new 1.5 million dollar factory was built in Newberry, South Carolina which became Shakespeare Electronics and Fiberglass. Later that same year the Noris Shakespeare Ltd. of England was established on July 31st, through the acquisitions of S. Allock & Co. Ltd. and J. W. Young & Sons, of Redditch. Crawford Gordon was elected as the new President of the Shakespeare Company, with Henry staying on as Chairman of the Board.

The next major expansion moves were the purchases of the Pflueger Company of Akron, Ohio in 1966, and of the trolling motor manufacturer, Phantom Products and the Plymouth Golf Ball Company in 1968. Also at this time, Shakespeare opened a new warehouse facility in Orillia, Ontario Canada. Winpull Fishing Accessories of Hong Kong now manufactured baits and other terminal tackle for the Company, and Stephen Trewhella succeeded Charles Crawford as the new Company President.

Saddles and equestrians supply manufacturer Simco Leather Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee , and Root Archery Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan became the next acquisitions in 1969.

The Company's headquarters were moved from Kalamazoo to Columbia, and an arrangement was made with the Omori Manufacturing Company, a leading Japanese producer of fine quality reels, to build Shakspeare's new spinning reels, and the new lightweight "President II" bait casting and fly reels. The Shakespeare research and development team was performing experiments with graphite in the early 1970's when the material was first made available to the industry. However, at that time, graphite sold at $1,500.00 per pound. Henry Shakespeare was able to get his hands on some of the new material at no cost from a friend in the industry, and this provided them with enough graphite to complete a few prototype rods.

In 1971, Mr. Trewhella made arrangements for Shakespeare to market the skis of the Elan Ski Company of Yugoslavia across the U.S. and Canada.

Simpson Electronics was acquired in 1974 for the production of depthfinders, and by 1975, Shakespeare was producing its own "Graphlite" fly rod as well as supplying the Orvis Company of Manchester Vermont with graphite blanks for their own series of graphite rods, during the short period in which Orvis converted its fiberglass rod facility to graphite rod production. The extremely popular fiberglass/graphite "Ugly Stik" made its debut in 1976 and annual corporate sales quickly exceeded the 100 million dollar mark, becoming the most popular line of fishing rods that Shakespeare ever produced. Even the "CB" radio craze had become a windfall for the company, as fiberglass CB antennas exceeded the number of fiberglass fishing rods being made.

But by now, the "recession" had forced Shakespeare to discontinue its archery and golfing lines, and many of the acquisitions that were made over the past 20 years were also being discontinued. In February 1980, Anthony Industries of California acquired a majority of Shakespeare stock and voted these shares in a successful takeover of the Shakespeare Company. Shortly after, Shakespeare's President Stephen Trewhella and Vice president Ben Hardesty resigned, and the new owners restructured the management, closing the Fayetteville Arkansas reel plant and moving its operations to Columbia, S.C.

Early in 1994, the Shakespeare Electronics and Fiberglass Division assembled a team consisting of plant personnel, marketing experts, outside consultants, and the Southeast Manufacturing Technology Center at the University of South Carolina, to begin a new product development project using new approaches and technologies. With assistance from the university, fishing rod design criteria could now be quantified and computer simulated, rather than the old empirical methods of design which relied heavily on trial-and-error methods to make improvements. The results of this collaboration was the creation of a new rod design, 15-20% lighter, yet stronger, with a reduction in diameter of 25-30%. Shakespeare is once again regarded as an innovator and market leader in fiberglass reinforced products.

Copyright 1997

Used with permission of Gabby Talkington, from

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