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]

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]

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]

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]

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    

Rare ~nr Mint Lure & Nr Mint Orignal Box C1915 Heddon #150 Dowagiac Wood FishingRare W.d. Chapman New Combination BaitMuseum Grade Heddon Musky Vamp In Intro Box WowoVery Rare ~near Mint "3-hook" C1919 Winchester #9011 Glass Eye Wood Fishing LureRare Unused Heddon 159rh (salt Water Finish) 5-hook Minnow In Box Ex++!Heddon Tadpolly # 5009 K In Goldfish With Box1912 Heddon Lure Box And PaperVintage Creek Chub Dinger Fishing Lure Wooden Glass Eyes 5600 Ccbco B26 Skunk Heddon Vintage King Basser 8559sprh Salmon Fish Lure Plug In Original BoxVintage Very Rare Old Zink Screwtail Fishing Lure Excellent Condition Nr!!Vintage Old Wood Heddon Dowagiac 150 5 Hook Minnow Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Nr!!Vintage Heddon Magnum Torpedo LureRare ?? Vintage Kent Frog Lure By Pflueger?? Frog Spot With Glass Eyes Antuque??Early Style Hansen Spoonjack Spoon Jack Minnow Lure 1925 Heddon Luny Frog Nr Mint + Hang Tag In Original Marked 3509b Down Bass BoxHeddon Tadpolly Early # 5009 D With Intro BoxShakespeare Gold Metal Plated Minnow #33 Lure Circa 1915-look!!1970's Heddon Magnum Torpedo Spook Topwater LureHtf Vintage Creek Chub Fintail Shiner Fishing Lure Wooden Glass Eyed 2100 B44Vintage Heddon Punkinseed 9630 Red Head FlitterVintage Heddon Punkinseed 730 Shad Sinker Boxed Vintage Creek Chub Surface Dingbat Fishing Lure Wooden Glass Eyed Yell Skunk B271927 Vintage Creek Chub Weed Bug Fishing Lure Wooden Glass Eyed 2800 Look B37Heddon 1912 Sienna LureHuge Lot: Fly-tying Hackles, Cape, Feathers, Fishing, Vintage, Original PackagesHeddon Punkinseed Lure In Box Great ShapeVintage Heddon Dowagiac Rainbow Scale Vamp Wood Fishing Lure In Box Vintage Old Wood Heddon Dowagiac Meadow Mouse Fishing Lure Early Cup Rig Nr!!Pflueger Meadow Frog Lure In Box No. 9355Vintage Arbogast Jitterbug Fishing LureVintage Old Wood Creek Chub Injured Minnow Fishing Lure In Box Glass Eyes Nr!!Umco Aluminum Tackle Box Loaded Up With Heddon Lures A Bunch Here All Heddon Vintage Old Wood Creek Chub Jointed Husky Pikie Fishing Lure In Box Mullet Nice!Shakespeare Whirlwind Spinner LureOld Moonlight Pikaroon Lure Glass EyesVintage Wood Heddon Flaptail Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Dace Scale W Brush Box ExVintage Heddon Green Crackle Back Dowagiac Minnow Wood Fishing Lure In Box Lot Of 6 - Vintage - Moth Bug Popper - Fly Fishing Lures - Insect Bumble Bee Large Group Of Jim Pfeffer Or Look-alike Florida Fishing Lures Vintage Old Wood Pflueger 5 Hook Neverfail Minnow Fishing Lure Nr!!Mint ~ Scarce 7" Muskie In Mint Orig Box C1985 Carl Christiansen Wood Fish DecoyVintage Fly Fishing Lures - Metal Beetles Oreno - Mitchell Weber - Frog Hair BugVintage Old Wood Heddon Flap Tail Jr Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Green Scale Nr!!Vintage Old Wood Heddon Dowagiac Vamp Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Nice Color Nr!!Vintage Old Wood Pflueger Scoop Fishing Lure In Original Box Excellent Nr!!Vintage Heddon Punkinseed 730 Bluegill Boxed Pflueger Palomine Fishing Lure – Scramble FinishVintage Heddon Boxed 740 White Shore Punkinseed Lure Well Used Antique Fishing LuresVintage ~ Heddon Wiggler With Orig Down Leaping Bass BoxVintage Heddon Punkinseed 740 Shad Vintage Old Wood Jamison Struggling Mouse Fishing Lure Very Nice Old Bait!!Vintage Wooden Heddon 150 Dowagiac Minnow 5 Hook NrOld Heddon Walton Feathertail In Herring Shiner Scale Color PatternVintage Heddon River Runt Spook Floater E9400rw Water Wave Rare Tough ColorThe Definitive Paw Paw Bait Company 3500 Series BullheadVintage Heddon Punkinseed 740 PerchVintage Old Wood Creek Chub Injured Minnow Fishing Lure In Box Ge Red Side Nr!!Vintage Heddon Punkinseed 730 Sunfish Sinker Boxed Vintage Creek Chub, #802 Wagtail (redhead/white), Wood, Glass Eyes, Mil. Stencil