Some Brief Bronson History
The Bronson Reel Company of Bronson, Michigan was organized in June, 1922 by E.J. McMahon, who formerly had been the sales manager for the Shakespeare Company in Kalamazoo. When the factory opened there were 15 employees working in a small store building on North Matheson St. in Bronson. Compare that to the 300 employees (with a $750,000+ payroll) in 1950. By 1928, Bronson had expanded their line of reels to at least (13) different models, with numerous “trade” reels being produced for retailers and wholesalers throughout the country. That same year they built a new 15,000 square foot factory on North Douglas St. A grainy photo of the factory front is shown at left, circa 1930, and again on the right about 10 or 15 years later
The interior of the newly-built factory can be seen below, about 1934.
In 1931, Bronson purchased the Meisselbach-Catucci Mfg. Co. of Newark, N.J., makers of the famous Symploreel line of high-grade casting and fly reels. Because of the deepening Depression, Bronson would only sell the Symploreel casting reel line for a few years and the fly reel line until 1940. Also in 1931, Bronson would purchase the J.A. Coxe Reel Co. of Los Angeles, Calif., maker of some of the finest salt water reels ever produced.
Bronson would begin producing their own line of affordable salt water reels in 1933, giving it a major foothold in the salt water reel market well into the 1950’s.
By 1939, the Coxe line would expand into freshwater casting reels and Bronson would be producing over 130 different models and building 1,000 to 3,000 reels every day. Reels prices were for every pocket book, ranging from 25 cents to several hundred dollars per reel. Despite the continuing Depression, Bronson was making money.
The attack at Pearl Harbor that plunged the U.S. into war put an end to all fishing tackle production for over four years. All tackle manufacturers were ordered to cease tackle production by May 31,1942 and to re-tool for war production. Below are some more photos of the factory, taken in 1941.
Reel production resumed in 1946, but the number of different models was drastically scaled back to a couple of dozen. Even the Coxe “Big Game” reels were discontinued.
Starting in the early 1950’s, the Bronson Reel Co. would develop an entire line of open and closed-face spinning reels that would become the staple of their business. Casting reels were on the way out and Bronson whittled their available models down to just a few big sellers from the Bronson and Bronson/Coxe lines. They still were supplying retailers with “trade” reels, along with the famous #P-41 casting reel for James Heddon’s Sons and had large contracts with Sears and Montgomery Ward. By the 1960’s, however, sales were slipping due to the enormous competition in the spinning reel market and the virtual disappearance of the casting reel market.
Bronson changed ownership more than once during the 1950’s and early 60’s, but was finally sold to the True Temper Corp. in 1967 and the factory closed down several years later. A few of the original models would still be offered by True Temper into the 1970’s, but 50 years of reel production by Bronson was now pretty much history.
The deserted factory can be seen below in the first two photos. The second photo shows the Douglas St. property in 2013, after it was demolished. Photos are courtesy of ORCA member Tom DeLong.