Shakespeare Fishing Tackle – Over 108 Years of Excellence in Fishing Tackle

“Because of their contributions and longevity in the tackle industry, the Shakespeare name remains one of the most recognizable to the public. As such, it has a fascinating history within the tackle industry. . .”
— Fishing Tackle Trade News, Dec. 92

Date Line: Kalamazoo, Michigan


  • 1896 – William Shakespeare, Jr., an avid fisherman of 27 years, wanted to improve on existing fishing reels so he came up with a device for winding fishing line evenly back on the spool. William designed the level-wind reel and his new design was superior to anything on the market. As a result, this feature is now common on most fishing reels.

  • 1897 – With his experience in advertising, camera manufacturing, medicine and his love for fishing he founded The William Shakespeare, Jr. Company growing to a dozen employees by 1902. 
  • 1908 – Shakespeare Company slogan was created– “Built Like a Watch” 
  • 1915 – Name changed to The Shakespeare Company 
  • 1918 – During World War I The Shakespeare Company factory was converted to manufacture mortar fuses and automobile carburetors. 
  • 1920 – More than 5000 dealers specialized in Shakespeare products. 
  • 1939 – Anglers needed a way to apply a light action reel brake to prevent spools from back-lashing so William Shakespeare Jr. invented one, the “Backlash” Brake. The new Wondereel® was one of the most popular reels to ever hit the fishing tackle market. At the same time William designed a new two-gear direct drive reel. 
  • 1941 – World War II: The company had contracts to build controls for aircraft, tanks, and jeeps.

  • 1946 – Line production moved to Esterville, Iowa and incorporated as the Soo Valley Company. In addition to braided and fly line, Shakespeare was one of the firsts to manufacture monofilament line from raw materials. 
  • 1947 – The company is in it’s 50th year of operation. Henry Shakespeare (William’s son) is in charge. He introduces the President Reel and the newest innovation in fishing rods – the glass fiber Wonderod®. Invented by Dr. Arthur M. Howald, this rod revolutionized the fishing rod market and made bamboo and steel virtually obsolete. 
  • 1947 – Rod production moved to Columbia, South Carolina and was incorporated as the Columbia Products Company. This new factory was the center of research and development for fiberglass construction. 
  • 1950 – William Shakespeare, Jr. passed away on June 25th 
  • Circa 1953 – Development of the push-button Wondercast® spinning reel. 
  • 1954 – Shakespeare manufactured the first fiberglass radio antennas, golf club shafts, pool cues, archery equipment, and numerous industrial materials. 
  • 1956 – Line production moved to Columbia, SC 
  • 1959 – William Shakespeare, Jr. is elected to the National Sporting Goods Hall of Fame. 
  • 1965 – Shakespeare moves reel production from Kalamazoo, Michigan to a new plant in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Interesting note: The plant was one of the first in the country to treat polluted factory waste water and return it pure and filtered for reuse.) 
  • 1965 – With production growing, Columbia Products expands rod operations to a new plant in Newberry, South Carolina. This became the production center for fiberglass products. 
  • 1965 – Noris Shakespeare, LTD. Was established in Great Britain. 
  • 1966 – Shakespeare acquires the Pflueger® Company (formerly known as The Enterprise Company). 
  • 1968 – Shakespeare Company opened a subsidiary in Ontario, Canada called Shakespeare Company (Canada) Ltd. in Rexdale. 
  • 1968 – Trolling motors were added to the Shakespeare product line. Initial production was by Phantom Product but shortly thereafter production began at the Arkansas plant. Trolling motors were dropped from the product line in 1986. 
  • 1970 – Shakespeare corporate headquarters moved from Kalamazoo to Columbia, SC. 
  • 1972 – Shakespeare buys Southern Tackle Distributors. 
  • 1972 – March – Shakespeare Company listed 2,479,680 shares of stock on the New York Exchange under the ticker name SKP. 
  • 1976 – Introduction of the Ugly Stik tubular fishing rod! As quoted by Fishing Tackle Trade News in their March ’76 publication ” the Ugly Stik . . . may be the most remarkable product of the last two decades.” Designed using the Howald Process; first to feature a clear tip and ferruless construction. 
  • 1979 – Anthony Industries of Los Angeles, CA purchased 35% of Shakespeare Company stock. 
  • 1982 – Operations in Arkansas closed and moved to Columbia. All Shakespeare facilities are now located in South Carolina. 
  • 1984 – New advertising campaign is launched – “America Goes Fishing With Shakespeare” 
  • 1985 – New President Rods with triple built construction are made– forerunner of the current Ugly Stik Lite. 
  • 1985 – Shakespeare introduces the Ugly Stik Tiger rods – “For big game, choose the big cat” 
  • 1986 – Ugly Stik Jr. Kits are created so kids can fish just like Dad. 
  • 1992 – Shakespeare makes a move on fly fishing with Pflueger Medalist® fly rods. 
  • 1992 – Shakespeare enters the ultralight tackle market with the new 2500 ULX spinning reel. 
  • 1995 – Shakespeare re-enters the baitcast market with the low-profile Sigma® baitcast reel. Spincast reel category expanding with the addition of Microspin® and Microcast® reels. 
  • 1996 – Shakespeare gets a new corporate identity: Anthony Industries changes to K2, Inc. 
  • Ugly Stik Lite rods made using the Howald Process and triple built construction were introduced to the fishing tackle world. 
  • 1997 – EZCast® spincasting reels were introduced. 
  • 1998 – Round baitcast reels re-introduced to Shakespeare assortment. Tackle box kits off to a great start. 
  • 1999 – This was a banner year for Shakespeare with the addition of :
    – Warner Brothers “Looney Tune” character kits for children.
    – Ugly Stik 100% Graphite rods AND Ugly Stik Custom rods
    – Tidewater conventional reels 
  • 2000 – Synergy® spincast reels take the tackle world by storm! The introduction of Travelmate and Excursion travel kits takes fishing tackle out of the truck and into the suitcase. 
  • 2001 – Synergy® brand has a complete line of spincast reels – from micro to mega. New Catera spinning reels are a huge hit with the public. 
  • 2002 – The Pflueger® brand is on the rise with a complete line of Pflueger “premium products”. Whether spinning, baitcasting, or fly fishing, Pflueger has just what the avid angler needs. 
  • 2003 – Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo are no longer just cartoon characters. Now they are a complete line of children’s fishing gear. And don’t forget Miss Barbie! Our newest character to hit the fishing scene. Whether you are male or female, young or just young at heart, you’ll enjoy these colorful characters. 
  • 2005 – Shakespeare takes a big step in the Spincasting industry with the introduction of the Synergy Titanium family. This series, consisting of the Ti10, Ti10 Underspin, and the Ti20 has a streamline design making it as comfortable to the hand as to the eye. In the annual Outdoor Life tackle review, the Titanium series won the Editor’s Choice award for the most exciting new design in the spincast category. In 2006, Shakespeare plans to round off the category with four new models.

And what about the future? If the past is any indication, you can look forward to Shakespeare having another successful 100 years. So while we’re busy developing and manufacturing top quality fishing gear, grab your tackle and head to your favorite fishing hole. We’ve got the rest under control.