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Makinen Tackle Company.

"It's a honey! Full of flash with bulging eyes," declared a 1947 advertisement. The Makinen Tackle Company's colorful fishing lures, made in Kaleva, Michigan, found a ready market among the nation's avid sport fishermen.

William "Bill" Makinen, the son of Finnish immigrants to Michigan, was born in Kaleva in 1904. As a boy, he crafted wooden fishing lures and experimented with various shapes and colors to find which ones best attracted fish. His father ran a beverage business in Kaleva, the Northwestern Bottling Works, where Makinen and his brothers worked during the Great Depression.

As the Depression neared an end, Makinen turned his avocation into a business. In 1940, he and two or three employees began making fishing lures, using his garage as a workshop to craft the bodies and his basement as a paint shop and assembly room. The business grew during World War II, and by early 1945, it kept 14 employees busy making lures.

That same year, the Makinen Tackle Company moved into a 34- by 200-foot factory building in Kaleva and recorded 57 employees on the payroll. Makinen Tackle sold 135,000 lures in 1945. The next year, Makinen expanded the factory building and hired Paul Bergstrom as plant superintendent. The company offered fishermen a good selection of lures that came in a variety of colors and names, such as Merry Widow, Holy Comet (also spelled Hob-Comet), Waddle Bug, Makidevl, and Northpoint Wobbler.

Most Makinen lures were fashioned from cedar, poplar, and basswood, while some others were produced in a thermoplastic called Tenite. Makinen Tackle boasted that its lures had "new features that catch fish when others fail," and that their "Live-Action is irresistible and unmatched."

The best-selling example, Holy Comet, was jointed in the center and had a hole in its head. That made it shimmy as the fisherman pulled it through the water, thereby tricking hungry bass into perceiving it as a small injured fish. The lure's eight color schemes included a red head with silver scales, a white body with silver scales and red spots, and a black back with gray and silver scales and black spots. Another popular lure, the Waddle Bug, designed to attract bass and pike, featured a spread-wing metal nose that made it struggle along the surface of the water like a wounded duckling or mouse.

In the 1940s, Makinen Tackle began making lures for its competitor, James Heddon & Son, located in Dowagiac, Michigan. Heddon had turned to war production during World War II and still needed to fill orders for radio aerials for tanks and other military equipment. In 1947, Heddon contracted with Makinen to paint, assemble, and package its lures. Makinen finished more than 2 million lures for Heddon from 1947 to 1951, receiving a $5,000 bonus on every 100,000 lures. In 1951, having completed its military contracts, Heddon bought Makinen Tackle. Lure production shifted to Dowagiac, but Makinen continued making bamboo and fiberglass fishing rods for Heddon into the 1950s.

Today, visitors to the remarkable Bottle House Museum in Kaleva can view a large assortment of Makinen lures. John Makinen built the house in the 1940s using 60,000 glass bottles from his bottling factory. In 2008, the museum acquired the lure collection of Bill Gregory of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for exhibit in its Makinen Tackle Room.

By Robert Myers

Robert Myers is the director of education programs and events at the Historical Society of Michigan.

Caption: Makinen tackle on display at the Bottle House Museum in Kaleva. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Feldbush.)

Caption: Makinen Makilure Tenite Lure. (Photo courtesy of danol 155 on eBay.)

Caption: A Holy Comet Lure. (Photo courtesy of George LeRay.)

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Title Annotation:MADE IN MICHIGAN
Author:Myers, Robert
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2018
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