For August, I am featuring my first reel for my “Lure Of The Month” and, of course, I decided to make it a Minnesota-made reel!
In December of 1955 in the small town of Mankato, Minnesota…two men (Henry Denison and Lloyd Johnson) filed a patent application for a fishing reel they invented. It was a “closed-faced” reel, and it was destined to make history in the fishing world.
This reel was the Johnson Century Model 100. This reel was easy to use, durable, attractive, with various controls and adjustments conveniently located for the fisherman. Easy to cast, no “bird nesting”, and a simple to adjust drag. Yes, all the things we like in reels today!
It is sad to say, but Henry Dennison never got to see what he was part of as the patent was issued after he passed. But Lloyd Johnson grew their legacy that they started and continually improved the reel over the years.
The Johnson Century reels were made in various shades of green. Then, in the early 1960s, Johnson introduced the “Princess Model”, geared towards the females and trying to get them more into fishing. This was not a new idea, as other manufacturers of items were trying to get girls more interested in typical “boy” activities. Even Lionel made pink and pastel toy trains in the late 1950s to attract girl customers. The Princess Reel was no exception and had a bright pink color and had the same easy to operate features.
Below is an ad from 1962 from Boys Life Magazine. It is an ad for Wheaties Cereal and offers a $6.00 rebate for a Johnson reel. This allowed you to get a fishing reel for just a couple of dollars and two Wheaties box tops. What a great deal in 1962!
But, like the Lionel trains and other items, the pink reels did not sell well. By 1965 the pink reels were gone, while the green reels of the same type were until 1979.
In his later years, Mr. Johnson lost his sight, but still toured the plant to say “Hi” to all of his employees. His company ethics and philosophy were loved by his co-workers and they in turn made reels that met his high standards. Also, he stood behind his product and would only charge a $3.00 fee to fix most reels ($2.50 for service, 50 cents to mail back).
At the 40th anniversary of the Century reel, they were made again in 1995 thru 1997. After this run and the passing of Johnson, production moved from Minnesota to China (sigh)…and the paint on the reels are of far less quality (in my opinion). The reels were made on and off until 2009. Since then, these reels have not been made…but I am sure we will see them again at future anniversaries…but I fear it won’t be the same.