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    

Old William Faue Minnesota Folk Art Spearing Spear Fish Wood DecoyRare 1920s Heddon Red Head Luny Frog LureRare Special Order Ccbc Creek Chub 3215 Plunker In Tan Crab W/correct Box!Rare Vintage Creek Chub Misprinted Box W/ Correct Blue Flash Snook Plunker LureCreek Chub Wood Glass Eyes White & Dark Green 5" Lure Vintage!!Vintage Heddon Dowagiac Crab Wiggler W Glass Eyes Fishing LureTwo Large Vintage Fishing Bobbers One With Hand Line Wooden FloatsShakespeare Rhodes Minnow & Pflueger Minnow ')\\ Another Heddon Chugger Spook Old Fishing Lure ColorSouth Bend 3-hook Old Fishing Lure In Box 903 Glass EyesVintage Creek Chub Fishing LureFred Arbogast Jitterbug In Blue Head Excelent + Condition. Heddon Chugger Spook Old Fishing Lure ColorAuthentic Early Jim Donaly Wow Fishing Lure Gorgeous!Vintage Heddon " Shore Minnow" Fishing Lure W/ Box.Vintage Creek Chub Fishing LureCc21) Vintage Rhodes Solid Red Color 3-hook Underwater Minnow Fishing Lure GeCreek Chub Saltwater Pikie W/ Box, Paper, # 702 Sw California SpecialFull Tackle Box Vintage Fishing Lure Lot Heddon Bomber Cordell Rebel Many MoreHeddon 7359 Boxed Jointed Musky Vamp Allen Stripey Nice!!!!Small Old Glass Eyes Brass Turtle Decoy, Cricket, Live Bait Box, CageCc15) Early Vintage Creek Chub Black White No Eye Pikie Minnow Fishing Lure NrHeddon Punkinseed 2nd 9630 Fishing Lure (12) Lure Box Set #2Wooden Bite-em-bait Indiana Rotary Body Lure Excellent ConditionCc22) 2 Vintage Wood 3-hook Underwater Minnow Fishing Lure One With 2 Belly WtsCreek Chub Green, Yellow & Silver Glitter Baby Beetle 2" Wood Lure VintageOld Jos. M. Ness Nifty Minnie - 5 Treble HooksHeddon Punkinseed 2nd 9630 Fishing Lure (12) Lure Box Set #1 Vintage Creek Chub Fishing LureUnknown Old Wooden Frog LureVintage Creek Chub Fishing LureCc23) 3 Vintage Heddon Punkinseed Fishing Lures, 2 Wood, 1 With 2 Piece HardwareLarge Lot Of Vintage Fishing Lures, Fly Lures, Spinners Shrimp Unknown Folk ArtVintage Unknown Folk Art Old Fishing LureGroup Of 3 Vintage Wooden Fishing Bobbers Floats Montague And Two UnknownsBagley Fishing Lure. Wedge Lip. Rare Pattern.Vintage Fishing Lures With Old Pal Tackle Box Mitchell Garcia Pflueger Fly VestVintage Heddon Dowagiac 5-hook Underwater Minnow Wood Lure In Rainbow Series 150Heddon # 222 Weedless Widow In Correct BoxLot Of Vintage Fishing LuresVintage Pre Rapala Storm Wiggle Wart Pearl Beer Advertising Old Fishing Lure In BoxHeddon Punkinseed 2nd 9630 Fishing Lure (12) Lure Box Set #3Lot Of Four Bagley's Better Baits- 4 Inch- Never Used!!! Original Boxes!Vintage Erwin Weller Mouse Lure In Box Vintage Rare Old Wood Creek Chub River Rustler Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Nr!!Vintage Antique Tackle Heddon Dowagiac Minnow Go Deeper Tiny Runt Fishing LureVintage Heddon Punkinseed/ultra Rare Uncatalogued Color/new On Card!Creek Chub Wood Glass Eyes Grey & Red 4" Lure Vintage!!5 - Bagley Lures. Excellant + + + Used Condition14 Deep Running Bagley Old Fishing LuresVintage Heddon South Bend Devil Horse Cordell And More Fishing Lure Lot LookHeddon # 5000 Strawberry Spot Tadpolly In BoxHeddon Punkinseed 2nd 9630 Fishing Lure (12) Lure Box Set #4Case Of 12 New In The Box Shakespeare Lures ')\\ Tough Heddon Hi-tail Red/white With Beige Eyes Ex- Black StencilLucky Louie Cohoe Salmon Plug Lure Yellow Scale In Box Minser Tackle Co SeattleOld Wood Cigar Box Stuff With Vintage Fishing Lures Heddon/pflueger/south Bend.Vintage Old Wood Paw Paw Caster Fishing Lure Great Color Very Nice!!Vintage Heddon Tadpolly 4" Long L-rig Glass Eyes Yellow With Black Spots ! ! !