Below is a vintage advertisement for Johnson spin-cast reels. Depicted is a bait-casting reel in a typical back-lashed line condition. This looks pretty accurate. The tangle is often called a bird's nest or rat's nest. It was and is still the biggest downside of using a bait-cast reel. Although modern bait-cast reels have improved vastly with all sorts of advanced anti-back-lashing technology, it can still be a problem. But back in the day, it was a much more pronounced problem. It took a lot of coordination to learn how much thumb pressure to apply to the spinning spool of line in order to keep it tangle free. With the older or less-expensive bait-cast reels, an operator would often actually get a blister from the friction burn received while slowing it down. Each time the line tangled it could take minutes to hours to untangle it. Sometimes the tangle was so bad that it had to be cut. The special braided fishing line was expensive and it was impracticable to have to cut it away and waste it. So this ad truly resonated with anyone who had had such an experience with a bait-caster. The new Johnson 100 spin-cast reel offered deliverance from such nightmares. The time of the easy to use, versatile, and relatively inexpensive had finally come. It was met with unprecedented enthusiasm from the recreational fishermen and women and children who could now cast a fishing line a long distance with ease--and without the dreaded backlash. It is hard to overestimate the impact that the spin-cast reel had upon fishing. For the first time ever, anyone could fish with something more than a cane pole with a line attached. The Johnson Century 100 was met by the increasing post-war leisure and disposable income. The timing was perfect.
Before spin-cast reels, fishermen were limited to three basic kinds of fishing reels, each pretty specialized and used for a specific type of fishing. This limited casual recreational fishing to those who had the time, the money, and the inclination to undertake a serious endeavor. Spinning reels were designed for small and lightweight lures. They were not too hard to learn to use basically, but for precision casting, they did require some practiced skill. For larger and heavier baits and lures that we called plugs or crank-baits a bait-casting reel was used. This type of reel not only required skill and practice to use, they too, were expensive. For casting very small and almost weightless flies that imitated real insects in appearance and behavior--fly-rods and reels were used. These reels were primarily just places to store a heavy line that could provide the necessary weight to propel the fly forward when it was combined with the spring action of a long fly-rod. Of the three methods of fishing, this type perhaps required the greatest skill and practice.
And avid fisherman would need to learn all types of fishing. It required a sizable investment for anyone, which precluded many would-be recreational fishermen from undertaking one or more of the available methods. It is no wonder that there was a race among inventors and manufacturers to crack the combo-use reel, as it would open up a huge market to those who did.
The reel in the top middle was among the first Johnson Models that mounted side-ways and hung underneath the rod. The distinctive green metal bell began the trademark recognition of these early spin-cast reels. Although the so-called side-winder reels were moderately successful, it was not until the advent of the Johnson Century 100, picture right and left of the side-winder model, that the spin-cast reel became the standard that place easy casting into the hands of millions of average fishermen.
The ZEBCO pictured below is similar in appearance to the earliest ZEBCO models. Although the earlier models of the ZEBCO spincast reel was fairly successful, it was not until a release button was added, in lieu of a simple hole in the top of the reel through which the line was held and released, that the ZEBCO reel models enjoyed notable commercial success. As with most inventions, the modern spincast reels evolved over time as one effort buit upon another. It is fair to say that both ZEBCO and Johnson contributed to one another success and that both borrowed from one another's designs--more or less. The Johnson Century 100 and it's immediate successors can reasonably be credited with stepping the game up and setting th estandard by which all other spin cast reels are now judged. Although there have been some improvements made over th eyears, my money is still on the early Johnson designs. You will be hard-pressed to find a modern reel that performs as well, is as durable, and is as versatile to use as was the Johnson Century 100 Reels.
The ZEBCO Reel Pictured is the Popular Model 202. It is representative of the way ZEBCO Reels Look. I have never like most ZEBCO reels although my bias is not well-founded. The metal models are probably as reliable as the brand that I like. I developed a dislike for the plastic models that my friend had when I was a kid. Even very recently, I opened up a black metal model. The first inside part that I came to was made of plastic. As I attempted to turn it, it crumbled in my hands. I can truthfully say that this has never happened to me with a vintage Johnson reel. In most cases, if an aquired Johnson reel has all the parts still there, I can have it working as new in just a few moments. I will here also note that my current favorite close-face underspinning ultralight reel is very similar in appearnace and design to this ZEBCO 202 reel. It is made by ZEBCO. I like it a lot. So I readily admit that my bias is probably just a personal preference. However, I do feel that the early plastic ZEBCO models did not wear nearly as well as did the metal counterparts. Millions upon millions of these reels were sold--AND the ZEBCO REEL Company is still in business, so what do I know.
Zero-hour Bomb Company from whose name ZEBCO is derived filed the first successful combination-use reel in 1949. Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they had actually been a wartime bomb manufacturer. Deciding upon the newly invented fishing reel as a peacetime replacement product to manufacturer in the plant, the newly patented fishing reel that worked much like a then typical open-face spinning reel, instead had a covered face through which the line was cast and retrieved helped manage the fishing line in such a way as to minimize the tangles associated with bait-cast reels, even under the tension of casting a heavy plug lure or weighted sinker with a hook.
This was a major break-through in fishing reels and showed a great deal of promise.Near the same time, another pair one and inventor and the other an engineer, filed a patent for another spin-cast design. The reel that was to be manufactured under the name of Johnson, mounted sideways on the fishing rod hanging under the mount as did a fly-reel or a open-face spinning reel. With each of these designs, the line was freed to be cast, as was the line on a conventional close-face spinning real. Also similar to the casting using a conventional spinning reel, was the necessity of picking the line up with the fingers and controlling it until it was to be released during the forward casting motion.
Both of these new fishing reels gained a following, although neither operated flawlessly or simply enough to create much clamor.
Although Shakespeare has long been a fishing tackle manufacturer, they were not among the first to make innovations in the world of spin-cast. My brother acquired a Shakespeare Wondercast as a gift when we were kids. I think this was in 1960. The reel was a well-made reel that sold at a premium price. These were among the Cadilacs of spincast fishing reels. I liked the drag system which is controled by loosening or tightening the bel, after it is sufficiently in place. There were several design features that were excellent on these reels and millions were sold. These reels are still usable with a little lubrication. They had a few more moving parts and were a little bigger and heavier. This was not necessarily a disadvantage for everyone--but it was for some. Shakespeare manufactured reelo for other labels as well just as did Johnson. Interestingly, at different time periods, both of these manufacturers made reels for Montgomerey Wards (Hawthorne) and Sears & Roebuck. These were competing mailorder companies.