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    

Montague Wood Bobber - Float In Original Box + Paper Old Fishing LureVintage 1930's Shakespeare Glass Pig Minnow Trap Fishing Tackle In Original Box Rare Special Order Creek Chub Beetle Old Vintage Kennedy Tackle Box Stuffed With Tons Of Wood Fishing Lures Lot Wow!Heddon 740 Punkinseed - Excellent In Correct Box - Sunfish1911 Patent Pflueger Four Brothers Five Hook Underwater Minnow And Original BoxVintage North Channel 5 Hook Wood Minnow Lure Detroit Bait Company Boxed Heddon 150 MinnowVintage Creek Chub Weed Bug Fishing LureVintage Tackle Box Loaded With Lures Shakespeare Revolution Heddon Creek Chub 5 Vintage Hardy’s Of Alnwick Lures, 2 Reels, Bait Box Etc No ReserveSouth Bend #922 Luminous Surface Floating Minnow Lure In BoxVintage Wooden Heddon Dowagiac LureRare Vintage Heddon Dummy Double Fishing Lure #1500 C.1914-15 L-rig Nr1920s Heddon Zaragossa Glass Eye Natural Scale Wood LureVintage Creek Chub Wee Dee Fishing LureVintage South Bend 5 Hook Fishing LureHeddon Musky Minnow-vintage Fishing Lure.Old Heddon Lucky 13 Lure Minnow Bait Spook 70-80's Vintage Tough ColorOld Vintage Kennedy Tackle Box Estate Fishing Wooden Packed With Lures Lot!!wow!Rare Heddon's Dowagiac 5 Hook Minnow Fish Lure Glass EyesFour Brothers 3 Hook Minnow With Maroon Box HpgmVintage Heddon Dowagiac Minnow ,box And InsertVintage Heddon L-rig 5 Hook Fishing LureVintage Antique Pre Rapala Storm Lot Wiggle Wart & Wee Wart Bass Fishing LuresVintage Heddon Dowagiac Minnow #189 D,box And InsertVintage Antique Pre Rapala Storm Wiggle Wart V16 Blue Bengal Tiger Bass LureBoxed Creek Chub Beetle LureMoonlight Pollywog Jr Lure In Red & Black Glass EyesWalleye Fish Decoy By SteffenCreek Chub Baby Dingbat LureVintage Heddon Bottle-nosed Tadpolly Wood Fishing Lure In FrogspotVintage Creek Chub #2606dd Jointed Pikie Special Order Goldfish Rare Tough ColorJohn Pususta Brook Trout Fish Decoy Wood Carving No Reserve!!!Super Rare Paw Paw Series 70 "the Rat" Lure Brown PearlHeddon Three Hook Fancy Green Back (100) Box - Excellent - Early Crackleback Heddon Flipper Old Wood Fishing Lure Glass EyesShakespeare Slim Jim - Excellent Glass Eyed Lure With Photo Finish, Super Nice!Heddon Tadpolly Lure1920's Vintage Moonlight Bait Company Yellow Scale Bait W/ Highly Desirable BoxHeddon Chugger Spook 9540 Ps Old Fishing Lure New In Correct Box Purple ScaleLot Of 23 Bagley's Fat Cat Lures*Arbogast Sunfish- Metal Two Finned Weedless Vintage FishingHeddon Chugger Spook 9540 Frog Scale Old Fishing LureVintage Antique Pre Rapala Storm Wiggle Wart V15 Orange Bengal Tiger Bass LureCreek Chub Injured Minnow1920's Jamison Bait Company Fly Rod Wiggler W/ Highly Desirable BoxPflueger 5 Hook Neverfail Underwater Minnow Lure In StrawberrySouth Bend Pantella Minnow # 913gcbw Vintage Fishing Lure.Creek Chub Baby Injured MinnowHeddon Crazy Crawlers 2102xs In Box With Catalog - Early Donaly Clips!!Rare Moonlight Bait Company Feathered Mother Of Pearl Minnow On Original CardLot Of 23 Bagley's Fat Cat Lures With No Hooks!!*Vintage Tackle Box Loaded With Heddon Pflueger Al Foss South Bend Wtj Lowe &Creek Chub Ding-bat,nib Vintage Fishing Lure.Pflueger 5 Hook - Excellent Green Crackle Back - Nice Looking Lure!!Heddon Zig Wag Jr. Glass Eyes - Excellent - Jointed Wood LureTuff Older Heddon Chugger Spook Lure In Black Scale , Gold Eyes, Red Gills Wright & Mcgill Bass-o-gram LurePflueger Five (5) Hook Minnow - Perch - Marked Props