Fishing lures have been around about as long as prehistoric humans have contrived ways to catch fish. The earliest, prehistoric lures were made of bone. China was the first civilization to make fishing lines (of silk, of course), to which they attached delicate bronze hooks.

One of the founding fathers of the nascent fishing-lure industry in the United States was the son of a furrier named Julio T. Buel of Whitehall, New York. Between 1852 and 1876, Buel won five patents for various stamped-metal "arrowhead" spinners and feathered "spoons," as they were called then and are known today. Some had tiny chambers that could be opened or closed to make the lure either a sinker or a floater.

Around the same time, a contemporary of Buel’s, fellow New Yorker Thomas H. Bate, produced a number of metal Serpentine Spinners. Bate’s single- and treble-hook spoons were similar in some respects to Buel’s except that Bate’s spoons often had a drop of brass in their centers to give the lure extra weight.

Riley Haskell of Ohio took a more realistic approach with his lures, which closely resembled minnows. Some were made of brass, others of copper, and the detail of Haskell’s minnows was so complete that his tiny metal fish often featured scales.

W.D. Chapman of Theresa, New York was another prominent late 19th-century producer of "trolling bait." While his early products had a lot in common with those produced by Buel, by the 1880s he was merging the Buel and Haskell styles to create lures such as the Kilby Brass Single. The nickel-plated, spiraling "Safe Deposit Minnows" of the 1890s are especially handsome examples of antique fishing lures.

The transition from fishing with metal to wood and other materials begins—by some accounts, anyway—in Michigan at the family home of James Heddon. Heddon came from a family of fisherman who had always made their own homemade lures—one fine example from about 1890 features four hooks on a broomstick body that has been painted to resemble a frog. A bottle cap works nicely for a head.

By 1902, Heddon and his sons, Charles and William, were making lures in their kitchen. The first of these were named after their hometown, Dowagiac. Some of these had sloped nose...

As Heddon grew and the 1920s dawned, the company produced lures with names like Tad Polly, Lucky 13, Basser, Luny Frog, Zaragossa, and Vamp (in Baby, Round Nose, Jointed, Musky, and Floating flavors), among others.

Another Michigan company from the same period was William Shakespeare. At the beginning of the 20th century, Shakespeare lures were somewhat abstract, composed of aluminum, acorn-shaped body sections that have an almost robot-like appearance.

Shakespeare was also an early champion of rubber lures, making life-like frogs that were painstakingly painted. Some minnows floated, others worked while submerged, and all were studded with nasty hooks (five trebles was not uncommon). In the 1920s and 1930s, Shakespeare also produced lures that resembled swimming mice, complete with tails.

Back in Ohio, Pflueger, which sometimes marketed its lures under the name Enterprise Manufacturing Company, was the other great 19th-century lure company. Its earliest minnow lures from 1899 had glass eyes, and some of its 1880s lures used luminous paint to help attract fish. Pflueger’s Kent Floaters were squat, acorn-shaped, and brilliantly colored; its Surprise Minnows featured deeply carved grins; and the O’Boy Minnows and Pal-O-Mine lures had metal mouths to catch and reflect light.

Creek Chub Bait Co. and South Bend Bait Co. were Indiana’s contributions to the world of antique and vintage fishing lures. In 1906, three fisherman friends founded Creek Chub to produce just one lure, the Wiggler. Other Creek Chub lures wagged their tails or flopped at their joints. The company also made lures that looked like bugs, as well as minnows that floated upside down to suggest they were injured and, thus, easy pickings.

South Bend’s first minnow lures used propellers supplied by Shakespeare. The hooks of its lures were secured to screw eyes set into deep aluminum cups, which gave South Bend lures a fancy, finished appearance. One of its most popular lures was the uniformly tapered, dual-propeller Surf-Oreno, which was produced from 1916 through the 1960s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Joes Old Lures

Joes Old Lures

Joe Yates' website is a great showcase for hundreds of old fishing lures, providing high resolution photos and in m… [read review or visit site]

Mrlurebox.com

Mrlurebox.com

Take a big bite - you won't want to just nibble at Robbie Pavey's gallery of over 300 antique fishing lures, many w… [read review or visit site]

AntiqueLures.com

AntiqueLures.com

This extensive site features over 500 pages of information on pre-1940 wood fishing lures and lure boxes. Start wit… [read review or visit site]

Oldfishinglure.com

Oldfishinglure.com

This site is sure to snag you with its great collection of fishing lures from the early 1900s. Includes lures from … [read review or visit site]

Bob Vermillion - Folk Art Tackle

Bob Vermillion - Folk Art Tackle

Bob Vermillion started collecting lures at age 16. Accordingly, his handsome site is dedicated to his love of folk-… [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

TackleCollecting.com

TackleCollecting.com

Larry Nicholson's site dedicated to vintage fishing lures. Features beautiful images of lures and boxes from Fred A… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Vintage Charmer Minnow 1910 Fishing LureVintage Moonlight Bait Company-paw Paw, Michigan Moonlight Brand Lure And Box I*exceptional Perch Scale Heddon 100 Fat Body Unmarked Props *$99 No ReserveVintage Moonlight Bait Company-paw Paw, Michigan Moonlight Brand Lure And Box IiHeddon 150 Fishing Lure Combo / 154 Wood Slidetop Box 1905 / 06 BaitAntique Vintage Heddon Musky Surfusser #350 Fishing LureVintage Sears Tackle Box, Loaded Huge Lot Of Old Lures And Tackle, Over 100 Heddon Dowagiac Minnow " Fat Body" #107 In Fancy Sienna Crackleback W/box Vintage Charmer Minnow Glass Eyes See Through HardwareVintage Fishing Lure Red Wooden Minnow Heddon Kingfisher Killer 5 HooksVintage Pflueger 3-hook Metallized Copper Minnow Fishing Lure Gorgeous Creek Chub Baby Injured Minnow Lure In Redwing BlackbirdCreek Chub Bug Wiggler Very Rare !!!!!!!!!Heddon Antique Fishing Lure, Dowagiac Minnow 150 4 In. 1903 V.g. Paint Vintage Moonlight Bait Company-paw Paw, Michigan Glass Eyed Fishing LureCcbc Creek Chub Lure 5900: Midget Plunker, Redwing Blackbird, Glass EyesRare Vintage 1926 South Bend Commemorative Bass Oreno Wood Lure Glass Eyes Vintage Paw Paw Bait Co. Paw Paw, Michigan Fishing Lure With Box IiShakespeare 3-hook Underwater Minnow Old Fishing Lure Glass EyesVery Rare Creek Chub-shur Strike Injured Minnow Lure In LuminousRare Vintage Heddon Spindiver Musky Lure Early Heddon 4 Hook Slope Nose Fishing Lure Staley Johnson Twin Minn Old Wood Fishing Lure FrogVintage Wood Creek Chub #607 Rare Husky Musky Natural Mullet Finish Correct BoxHeddon 151 Rainbow 5-hookerVintage Pt Jude Surf Slapper Salt Water Striper Lure In Light House Box C 1940's1928 Vintage Heddon 7550 Musky Vamp Surface Minnow Lure Red+white Blended FinishCreek Chub River Scamp Lure In Dace Creek Chub Snook Pikie Old Wood Fishing Lure New In Box 5507 Glass Eyes Color !Vintage Crank Baits Most Storm Wiggle WartsVintage K And K Animated Minnow Very Nice Glass EyesVintage William Shakespeare Antique Fishing Lure IiiVintage Heddon Wood 150 5 Hook Fishing Lure With BoxVintage K And K Animated Minnow Very Nice Glass EyesVintage Old Wood Fishing Lure Heddon Meadow Mouse GreyTough Creek Chub-shur Strike Baby Pikie Lure In Green Scale + Western Auto BoxRare Old Vintage Conetail Wood Heddon Crazy Crawler Model# 2120Vintage William Shakespeare Antique Fishing Lure 9Vintage Paw Paw Bait Co. Paw Paw, Michigan Fishing Lure With Box IVintage Heddon Luny Frog Lure Old BaitVintage Fishing Tackle Rudge Devon Lures BoxedW.d. Chapman Lure Rare Nymph Lure Collection Lot 3Vintage Pflueger Argyle Pattern Neverfail Minnow Fishing LureVintage Paw Paw Bait Co. Paw Paw, Michigan Fishing Lure With Box IiiVintage William Shakespeare Antique Fishing Lure IiVintage Old Wood Fishing Lure Creek Chub Peter's Special Silver Flash GeTough Creek Chub Pop-n-dunk Lure In Redwing BlackbirdAntique Vintage Unknown Brass Bait Fishing LureOld 1950's Bill Crowder Salesman Sample Kit Box With Lures And Color CatalogDuluth Fish Decoys Dave Perkins Folk Art Snapper Turtle Spearing Decoy Bear Creek Bait Co. Ice King Fish Decoy Rare Wood Bear Creek Fish Decoy In BoxHeddon Dowagiac Expert 1907Heddon Vamp 7500, 7509jrh, Beautiful Frogscale W/red Head. Flap Rigged GeVintage Creek Chub Fly Rod Dingbat Fly Rod Fishing LureHeddon Punkinseed Good ConditionSmall Pearl Bethel Minnesota Folk Art Fish DecoyVintage Pflueger 3-hook Metallized Minnow Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Nice BaitVintage Minnesota Folk Art Pearl Bethel Fish DecoyVintage Wood Creek Chub #2800 Weed Bug In Bug Finish Extremely Rare No BoxVintage Heddon Crazy Crawler 2150gm Gray Mouse Fishing Lure - W/box