The World’s First Spincast Reel
Today’s beginner and recreational fishermen and women have it pretty easy. Today’s
spincast reels incorporate modern technologies and designs that make fishing more
enjoyable, and more successful, though they are still based upon on a simple concept:
push a button and cast.
Now imagine the time before that concept was developed. Prior to spincast reels,
fishing was not the wide-spread recreation of most families because it took a lot more
work. Certainly anyone might have just tied a string to a long stick, dangled some bait in
the water and hoped a fish bit, but those that took fishing a littler more seriously back
then were limited to fishing reels that were mostly bulky, mostly difficult to use, and
mostly out of the price range of most folks.
Anglers, then and now, will tell you the most important thing to do to catch a fish, is get
your bait to it. You hope he bites it, but if it’s not there, he surely won’t. Casting your bait
is the best way to get it to the fish because unless you’re lucky enough to have the fish
sitting right below you, you’re going to have to put it out there where he is. Early fishing
reels, those designed for freshwater fishing in lakes and ponds, were not always the
easiest way to throw out a baited line. They were often clunky at best when it came to
casting, and their design made them prone to what are referred to as “backlashes.” This
occurs when the spool holding the line spins faster than the line that’s coming off the
spool, and it can be quite a headache to fix. Generally it would take removing all of the
line and then re-spooling the reel – not the most efficient way to spend an afternoon
Then something amazing changed in the 1940’s. A man walked in to a butcher shop.
R.D. Hull made a regular stop at his favorite butcher’s place to stock up for the family.
While waiting for his order to be processed, he was somehow drawn to the device that
his butcher used to help tie the meat packaging. A fixed spool of line hung from the wall,
and when needed, the butcher simply yanked enough line from it to do the job, and it
didn’t seem to matter how fast he pulled the line. It was this device that sparked an idea
in the mind of this natural born tinkerer and watchmaker from west Texas, who also
happened to be an avid angler.
At the time, fixed spool spinning reels had been around for about 40 years. These early
spinning reels resembled large fly reels turned sideways, and required a lot of manual
labor in order to retrieve the line back onto the spool. They certainly didn’t backlash, but
they also certainly didn’t make fishing any easier, or more enjoyable. With the idea still
sparking in his mind, Hull decided to put his tinkering efforts into creating away to
lessen the amount of effort that going fishing takes. He would resolve two major issues
with his idea: 1) make casting easy; 2) make retrieving line easy. Accomplish these two
things, he felt, and fishing would no longer be such a big hassle. It would simply be…
When he completed his first prototype, R.D. Hull’s search for a manufacturer lead him to
Tulsa, Oklahoma and to a company looking for something to help their dwindling
business of building oil well explosives. Newer, safer technologies were redefining how
oil companies found and extracted oil so the Zero Hour Bomb Company, facing expiring
patents, needed a little inspiration, and maybe a new direction.
Impressed by the west Texan’s enthusiasm, company officials agreed to manufacture
Hull’s reel. On May 7, 1949, Hull and an assistant built five reels in a single day as a
test of the production process. The next month a small team of assembly workers built
twenty-five of the handmade “Standards” on the first day’s production run. That same
month, their public debut at a Tulsa sports show brought an overwhelming response to
this new type fishing reel. Never before were you able to push a button, cast a line
without backlash and retrieve with so much ease. For anyone even remotely interested
in fishing, this was revolutionary.
Company officials decided shortly thereafter that they were no longer going to be in the
oil well explosives business – they were now in the fishing reel business with a new
company name, ZEBCO.