The Fred Arbogast legend is one of those stories that make you glad to be an American. It embodies everything that is great about this country. All it takes to succeed is an idea or dream, guts, courage, fortitude, and lots of hard work…..and Fred Arbogast had all of that, and more…..
Born in 1894 in Ohio, Fred went to Central High School in Akron, where he excelled in athletics. He was a starting halfback on their State Champion football team. He graduated in 1913, and, like many others, went to work at the relatively new Goodyear Tire and Rubber factory in Akron. When not making tires, he could be found fishing on the nearby Little Cuyahoga River.
He entered his first casting competition in 1916, and won the championship in the ½ oz. Class with a distance of 162 feet…amazing considering the primitive state of bait-casting gear at the time. It is worth noting that there were no spin-casting reels at that time. Those would have to wait for R. D. Hull, and the Zero Hour Bomb Company (ZEBCO) to invent them in 1949 (another fascinating story of it’s own…). In 1922, he set the World Record for distance casting in the ½ oz. Class with a distance of over 271 feet. He also won the ¼ oz. Class with a distance of over 193 feet. In 1923, he set the World Record for distance in the ¼ oz. Class with a cast of over 208 feet. He was the first person to win the competition 2 years in a row. And he didn’t just win the distance competitions. He also won awards for accuracy.
What makes this even more astounding is that not only were the bait-casting reels of that time very primitive, but there were no graphite, boron, or other high-performance rods available. Fiberglass had not been invented, yet. The rods were either cane, or steel. Fred preferred short stiff rods of around 4-1/2 to 5 feet long, with only 2 guides on them to cut down on friction.
Mr. Arbogast was also an ace with a fly rod in both distance and accuracy. He was so proficient with any kind of fishing rod that he would tour local tackle shops and put on exhibitions, casting through hoops, breaking balloons, and even knocking lit cigarettes from his assistance mouths.
At the same time, Fred was experimenting with different lure designs. The choices available at the time were very limited, and Fred was sure he could do better. He designed them in his basement, and they were very successful. It wasn’t long before local tackle shops were asking him to make lures for them to sell. In the mid-1920s, he left Goodyear to pursue lure-making full-time. His lure was the Spin-Tail Kicker in 1926, and the Fred Arbogast Lure Company was born. His first commercially-produced lure was the Tin Liz in 1932. He soon had to move into a larger house and hire employees to keep up with the demand, and eventually, have a full-fledged factory. His successful designs include the Hawaiian Wiggler in 1936, the Hula Popper, also in 1936, and the Jitterbug in 1938, as well as inventing the world’s first rubber skirt for lures, in 1936. All in all, he created 11 classic designs, most of which are still catching fish today, over 80 years later.
Unfortunately, no one lives forever, and Mr. Arbogast passed away in 1947, at the much too young age of 53, after collapsing while ice-skating. But his memory lives on, as do his lures…..
The original Jitterbug was made of wood, with a metal lip. The colors available were Red Head, Black, Black Scale, White Scale, Shore Yellow, Frog, Pearl, and Pearl with Herringbone. The first-generation Jitterbugs had larger bodies than subsequent models, and had huge toilet-bowl hangers for the hooks.
When WW-II broke out, the demand for metal to make the machines of war was so great that the Arbogast company switched to making both the body, and lip out of the new plastic material, which could be easily manufactured and was readily available.
In the 1950s, until the present, there was a return to the metal lip, but the plastic body was retained. A few new models were introduced, such as the long-bodied version, a smaller version, and even a jointed body model.
Although the original company was sold to PRADCO in 1997, the Jitterbug, as well as many other Arbogast designs are still available. You just can’t kill a classic…….