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    

Heddon Musky Vamp In Original BoxVintage-antique Heddon Spin Diver Green Scale1933-36 Heddon Musky Surfusser #350 -glass Eyes/yellow-red & Black Spots Color Large Collection Of Vintage Antique Fishing Lures Including Hardy EtcVintage Antique Tackle Creek Chub Wee Dee Frog Spot Wood Glass Eye Fishing LureEx. Ca. 1910 Shakespeare Swimming FrogHeddon 00 Underwater MinnowScarce Creek Chub Dive Bomber Victory Finish W. Correct Box Red YellowE+ Heddon Down Leaping Bass Box For Goldfish Deep O DiverVintage Fishing Lure Heddon 150 DowagiacVintage Shur Strike Minnows Lure Box With LureShakespeare Revolution..yellow W/spotsHeddon #10 Minnow - Very NiceCreek Chub Giant Jointed Pikie Minnow Lure In Box Tough Purple Eel Glass Eye Rare Beautiful Fishing Lure Collection Heddon And MoreHuge Vintage Umco 3500u Tackle Box Heddon Creek Chub Rapala Rebel & More Lures19th Century W.d.chapman & Son Theresa N.y #2 Bass Spinning Fishing Lure Tackle Very Early Glass Eyed Grasshopper Fly Rod Bait On Shapleigh's Hardware CardCreek Chub Pikie Minnow No.710 Lure White And Blue Head 9-7-20Pflueger Kent Frog Rare Wooden Fishing Lure Antique Tackle Glass Eyes1940 Pearl Bethel Folk Art Fish Spearing Decoy~listed Carver~ Ice Fishing LureMagnificent Scarce Vintage Minnesota Ice Fish Spearing Decoy / Leroy Howell !Vintage-antique Heddon 8" Musky Vamp 7600 SeriesSouth Bend Lunge Eyes & Nice!!!Paragon Minnow - Super Rare 1880"s British Metal Lure - Gregory /allcockSouth Bend Bass Oreno Blue Head No-eye With Correct 1916 Box Stamped 973 BhWilcox Wiggler LurePaw Paw Injured Minnow In Box!!Mo4) Early Vintage Heddon Rainbow Color 100 Dowagiac Minnow Lure Cup HardwareVintage Storm Pre Rapala Suspending Wiggle Wart Sv208 Blue Crayfish Orange Botom Pflueger Live Wire Minnow Lure Salt Water Single Hook ToughVintage Antique Bait Mount Fishing Lure Devon Minnow Spiner Wyers FrVintage Antique Old Devon Minnows Fishing Lure Mother Of Pearl Propellers 2 InchVintage-antique Heddon Musky Flaptail Spotted-teddy Bear EyesEx. Pflueger Blue Border Box W/paper For 3hk Frog MinnowCreek Chub Pikie Lure In Beautiful Blue Mullet Color - Box Also! New Pre-rapala Storm Wiggle Wart V19 Bengal Tiger-pink- UnopenedCreek Chub Dingbat In Correct Box Golden Shiner 5104Old Heddon Dowagiacfour Point Fish Spearing Decoy~winter Ice Fishing LureThe Fish Decoy By Art, Brad And Scott Kimball Volume 111 First Edition Signed ByLot Of Vintage Lures - Arbogast - Mann's - Heddon - Water Scout - Flutter FinVintage Heddon 119n River Runt W/ BoxVtg South Bend Surf Oreno Fishing Lure 962 Rw Boxed Never Used !!South Bend Bass Oreno Minnow Lure Luminous Tough Moon Box Heddon Green Crackleback Vamp LureHeddon Green Crackleback Basser Lure With Toilet Seat HardwareVintage Rare Old Wood Creek Chub Beetle Fishing Lure In Correct Box Nice!!Unknown Metal Fish LureJay Mcevers Blue New Style # 60 Totem Fish Decoy Lure Fishing Fine Folk Art WoodShakespeare Rhodes Underwater MinnowVintage Bud Stewart Frog LureOld Paw Paw Bait Co.~ Factory Fish Spearing Decoy~ice Fishing LureCreek Chub Giant Jointed Pikie Minnow Lure In Box Tack Eye Black ScaleCreek Chub Giant Jointed Pikie Minnow Lure In Box Glass Eye Perch Old Al&w Canada Creek Chub Fishing Lure Antique Tackle Vintage Box Glass EyeVintage Storm Pre Rapala Suspending Wiggle Wart Sv63 Green Naturistic CrayfishHeddon Wood Tadpolly With Glass Eyes The Fish Decoy By Art, Brad And Scott Kimball Volume 11 First Printing Signed Vintage Pflueger Wooden Minnow Lure Plug Bait Antique 1907 Fishing Sport Tackle Vintage Storm Pre Rapala Wiggle Wart V209 Red Crayfish Mint In Unopened Package