|The History of Zebco|
By Karl T. White
R.D. Hull was, by trade, a watchmaker and a barber in Rotan, Texas. He was also an inventor. One of his inventions was a portable device for drying garments called the "Tydee Dryer", which was not successful.
In his quest to make a backlash-free reel, he took a Model 1000 South Bend casting reel and altered it with two spools, which supposedly made it a backlash-free casting reel. He called this reel "The Texan", of which only 5 models were made. He acquired 7 investors who each put in $7,500, manufactured it, and called it "Lashmaster". This company was not successful and the investors lost their money. "The Texan" was the predecessor to the "Lashmaster".
This did not deter R.D. While at a supermarket, when viewing a string smoothly peeling off a spool without tangling, he had an idea. He put together a prototype using a Folger's Coffee can lid. Going back to his previous investors and showing them his new and improved idea, he asked if they would invest once again. They refused. This was in 1947.
R.D. Hull was searching for an investor when he came across a company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Zero Hour Bomb Company was incorporated in 1932 and manufactured electric time bombs for fracturing oil wells to produce more oil. In 1948, ZHB was facing the expiration of its bomb patent and management was concerned about the future of the business. The fate of a one-product company hung by a thread. Need for a new product was obvious. This was a match made in heaven! On the advice of an employee, Charlie Noble, who was also a fisherman, ZHB's General Manager, Harold Binford and Vice-President, Marion Parry accepted the challenge of manufacturing and marketing R.D.'s brain child.
By May of 1949, their maiden reel, called the "Standard" was in production, and a means of distributing the product was sought. ZHB turned to George Goetz, a knowledgeable tackle representative living in Tulsa, who took the challenge of marketing the reels. Goets answered with a trick-casting exhibition never before seen in the industry. He accomplished pinpoint casting accuracy, while among other things, wearing boxing gloves. Zero Hour Bomb Company was in the tackle business! Goetz took the line of reels throughout neighboring territories. It should be noted, however, that ZHB still maintained its production of time bombs and umbrella bridges.
The fisherman's prayers had been answered! Hull's "beer can with a hole in both ends", as it was described in the early days, made headlines wherever it went.
ZHB stock exchanged hands in September, 1952, as George Sumers and James Donoghue bought out W.J. Chelsey. A year later, Mr. Binford retired, and Mr. Parry became General Manager. In 1953, their Model 22 was ready to market at a price of $17.50, and they then reduced the price of their Standard to $12.50. As sales began to increase, so did the number of products. In 1954, the Standard was replaced by the Model 11, an improved reel than contained many of the desirable features of the Model 22. At a corresponding date, the Model 33 was introduced.
The Model 33, which is the bread and butter of the Zebco family of reels today, is America's best spincast reel. This reel has popularized the sport of landing larger fish with lighter tackle.
During this time, there were further developments along the executive level at Zero Hour Bomb Co. Ralph F. Lafferty, who had developed the Zero Hour Bomb Co.'s export office in New York, was brought to Tulsa in May 1955. A year later, Mr. Lafferty became the Executive Vice-President and General Manager. He was to become President when Mr. Donoghue sold his stock and retired in March 1959. Mr. Parry continued as Vice-President and General Counsel.
In January 1956, the Zebco name was adopted and the Zero Hour Bomb Co., still active in the oil field accessory industry, became a division of the tackle firm. In the summer of 1956, the "new" Zebco was quick to come to the market with their Model 44 and Model 55. The Model 44 was made to accommodate improved American-type straight handled rods which previously could only be fitted with foreign-made spinning reels. The Model 55 was designed for heavy duty fresh water fishing, surf casting and spinning.
The Model 33 had set new records in each year of its existence. Sales rose 280% over a three year period. While the market increased, so did the plant facilities and the sales organization. From the original shop area in the center of Zebco's present plant, the walls were shoved out to include 35,000 square feet. Sales distribution grew from the local area around Tulsa to all parts of the United States and 27 foreign countries. Forty-three representatives and associates made up the largest sales organization in the tackle industry, all selling the Zebco line.
During the years 1962 and 1963, orders were counted in feet, as the demand for Zebco's newer series of tackle was beyond expectations. There was an even greater interest in closed-face models. Needing more space, 50,000 square feet of floor space was leased. This space was principally used for warehousing, shipping operations, customer service and special packaging.
R.D. Hull passed away in December of 1977 but his legacy will always be the millions of people who learn to fish each year with a Zebco reel.
Karl T. White is the Antique Tackle Consultant to BASSMASTER Magazine and author of many books about collecting fishing tackle. In 2002 he donated his entire collection to the Oklahoma Aquarium, located in Jenks, Oklahoma just outside of Tulsa. To learn more about Karl and antique tackle collecting, visit his website karltwhite.com.
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