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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Henry Dills, far right, second row, founded the Creek Chubb Bait Co. in Garrett in 1917. Although the company's lures became famous, Dills' insistence on hiring women has earned the site where the factory used to be a state historical marker.

Sunday, June 18, 2017 1:00 am

Lure company that hired women gets honor

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

The city of Garrett in DeKalb County has produced two professional baseball players and one Hollywood star, but in August, a historical marker will commemorate something many Generation Xers have never heard of.

In 1916, a guy named Henry Dills, who had been whittling wooden fishing lures for years, approached two local investors, looking for the money to turn his operation into a full-blown company.

With $500 in cash from each investor, Dill and his partners created the Creek Chub Bait Co., named after a little minnow found in creeks that people used for bait.

The company was unusual. If you didn't like a lure they'd give you your money back. If you loved one of their lures but it wore out, you could mail it to them, and for a dime they'd repaint it.

If you liked one of their lures but wanted a different color, they'd paint a lure any color you chose, as long as you agreed to buy a dozen.

The little company grew to be the second largest fishing lure business in the world. Eventually the world's five largest lure companies set up shop in northern Indiana and southern Michigan, choosing the location because of the presence of cedar trees used to make the lures.

The company patented the practice of painting scales on their lures and something called a diving lip, a piece of metal that caused the wooden lures, which usually floated, to dive beneath the surface.

The company made lures for U.S. presidents and sold saltwater lures in 17 countries.

By the 1970s, though, foreign lure makers started making lures out of plastic and undercutting Creek Chub on price.

Creek Chub considered making similar lures, but the company knew nothing about plastic, and interest rates in the mid-teens made borrowing money to refit the factory out of the question. So Creek Chub closed and was bought out by another company.

As interesting as the history of the lure company is – one man has written six books on Creek Chub – it's something else that prompted the state to approve a historical marker on the spot where the factory used to be.

Dill, who developed the lures, chose to employ women to paint and assemble them. He felt a female's hands were better for doing detail work and the delicate painting the lures required.

The plant had mostly women employees in the 1920s, and their work was good enough that even in the Depression the plant ran two shifts.

The marker commemorating the lures and the women who made them will be dedicated on Aug. 12 at the plant's location in the 100 block of East Keyser Street.

Individuals are invited to bring grandpa's tackle box to find out whether the old lures (not just Creek Chubs) have any value and what's good to fish with, said local historian Ron Matthews.

Parking and coffee will be free that morning at the Garrett Historical Society.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.