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    

1913~heddon Black Sucker #1300 Super Rare~wood Fishing Lure Bait~glass EyeHeddon "dowagiac Killer" Original BoxVintage Old Wood Heddon Dowagiac 300 Surface Minnow Fishing Lure Ge CracklebackAwesome "rare 6-hook" Special Order 1931 Heddon #300 Dowagiac ~wood Fishing LureVintage Old Wood Pflueger 5 Hook Neverfail Minnow Fishing Lure Glass Eyes FrogRare Fred Arbogast Jitterbug Lure Blue Water Wave W/ Yellow Lip Oh Circa WwiiVintage Charmer Minnow Glass Eyes See Through HardwareNice Heddon 100 In Frog Color....Vintage Rare Shakespeare Whirlwind 3 Hook With B Props. Nice! 300 Older Mostly Saltwater Fishing Lures Striper Plugs Bluefish Jigs Creek Chub Box & Paper W Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Color Neat Estate Find*exceptional Nos Box Of Plueger Run Free (12) Reel Oil Tubes *$9.99 No ReserveVintage Heddon Dowagiac 3 Hook 100 Minnow In Frog Spot With Down Bass Box Nice!Vintage Creek Chub Bait Co Tarpoon Pikie Treble Hook 4007 Original Box Wpb FlVintage Old Wood Heddon Musky Vamp Fishing Lure Glass Eyes Toilet Seat HardwareHeddon Dowagiac 00 Minnow Vintage L-rig Hardware, Ge, Nice Old Lure With Box"rare" Heddon Top Kick Hi Tail Fish Lure FrogVintage Old Wood Heddon Dowagiac 300 Surface Minnow Fishing Lure Glass Eyes NiceVintage Old Heddon Floating Vamp Spook Fishing Lure Ge Toilet Seat Hardware NiceVintage Pflueger Neverfail 3 Hook Minnow In Early Four Brothers Maroon Box Nr !Vintage Heddon Dowagiac 150 Minnow 5 Hook Fat Body In Bar Perch W. D. Chapman Lure Electric Lure Lot 4Vintage Metal Tackle Box, Loaded Huge Lot Of Old Antique Lures And TackleVintage Arbogast Water Wave Plastic Lip Jitterbug Fishing LureMany Vintage Wood Fishing Lures, Jigs,rare,musky,pumpkinseed,southbend,heddonScarce 1937 Vintage Heddon 7540 Musky Great Vamp Minnow Lure Perch Scale FinishVintage Heddon Dowagiac Minnow 159 I Lure Box Only, Down Leaping Bass, Ca1920s Vintage Old Metal Fishing Lure Fred Arbogast Tin Liz #2 W/ Box & PaperworkVintage Old Wood Fishing Lure Box Only Heddon Dowagiac Minnow Box W/ PaperworkVintage Heddon Zig Zag Glass Eyes Nice Color Good Condtion Old Fishing Lure WoodAntique Pre 1925 Wood - All In One Lure By Pflueger W/orig Blade - Estate #1 NrHeddon ( Head-on ) Basser 8509v Orange W/black SpotsCreek Chub Giant Pikie In Purple Eel Vintage Old Wood Fishing Lure Shakespeare Waukazoo Surface Spinner Red & WhiteVintage Creek Chub Pikie Lure # 2631 New In BoxVintage Creek Chub Fly Rod Dingbat With Ttn Box /cardVintage Hand Carved Wood & Tin Fish Decoy Lure Folk Art Signed R Dawson #1 YqzW.d. Chapman Lure Rare Nymph Lure Collection Lot 3Heddon's Genuine "dowagic" Wiggler Very Good To Nm In Box With Rare Hand TagVintage Heddon Dowagiac Vamp Wood Fishing Lure In Wood Lure BoxJohn Pususta Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout #700 Fish Decoy No Reserve!!!Vintage Rare Rhodes Shakespeare 3 Hook Minnow Vintage Shakespeare Revolution Fishing Lure Yellow W/brown DotsVintage Arbogast Plastic Lip Jitterbug Fishing LureVintage Antique Tackle Lot Eppinger Daredevles Spoons Fishing Lures*exceptional Nos Box Of Plueger Run Free (7) Reel Oil Tubes *$9.99 No ReserveHeddon ( Head-on ) Basser 8509 S........ A Real ScreamerVintage Antique Heddon 1906 No 100 3 Hook Glass Eye Minnow Lure & Dovetail BoxVintage Heddon 150 Dowagiac 5 Hook Wooden Fishing Lure With Glass Eyes & A Box!Vintage Creek Chub Fly Rod Dingbat F.1302, Original Box, Unused, Nos, No ReserveHeddon Mouse...l-rigStunning Creek Chub Pikie 707 ~brilliant Blue Mullet Scale, Wood Lure Glass EyesVintage Heddon Flipper 140 Fishing Lure, Ca. 1920, L Rigg Hardware, No ReserveVintage Old Wood Pflueger Musky Mustang Fishing Lure For Your Tackle Box Nice!!Rare Vintage Heddon Dowagiac Wiggle King In Stawberry Spot Circa 1918Group Lot Of 4 Vintage Lures Heddon-shakespeare-south Bend Models All Well UsedCollection Of 24 Bingo Fishing Tackle Lures ~ Corpus Christi, Texas Fish BaitVintage Jim Bagley Lure In PackageMagnificent Vintage Flying Swan Ice Fish Spearing Decoy / Carl Christiansen !Vintage Old Plastic Fishing Lure Paul Bunyan Transparent Dodger Nib