[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]ULSA, Oklahoma — It’s January of 1956 and big changes are happening in the fishing industry. A name that will become synonymous with the rise of recreational fishing has just launched—Zebco.
Ah, yes Zebco.
For almost every angler born after World War II, the beloved Zebco reel was their first introduction to fishing.
It was—and is—an innovative solution, a backlash-free way for anyone to cast a line. The reel was so simple that the Zebco quickly began replacing cane-poles as the go-to tackle for fishermen. Indeed, by January of 1956 the standard “push-button” reel had already been in production for nearly a decade; but until that winter day in Tulsa it had worn a different badge— a badge from the Zero Hour Bomb Company.
And as you can imagine, the Zero Hour Bomb Company did not begin life as a fishing operation. They began life in 1932 as a manufacturer of time bombs.
Zero Hour bombs were electrically triggered. They were primarily used in the oil industry to fracture oil well formations—designed to be dropped down a well to break apart rocks and un-tap the crude below. In the 1930’s, Zero Hour had a red-hot product. They held a patent on the bombs, which helped the U.S. supply the world with 63 percent of the world’s oil.
But by the end of World War II, the U.S. oil industry began to change. Vast fossil fuel reserves beneath other Middle Eastern nations were being unlocked. OPEC was beginning to take shape, and Texas and Oklahoma-based domestic oil in the U.S. was about to take a decades-long backseat to foreign oil.
Facing the rise of foreign oil and the 1948 expiration of their patent, The Zero Hour Bomb Company needed a solution.
Enter R.D. Hull, entrepreneur and inventor extraordinaire.
Hull was a watchmaker by trade, but by the time he met with the Tulsa-based bomb company in 1947, Hull had already produced two fishing reels.
Both were failures.
However, his latest idea—born from an inspiration at the grocery store and a coffee can lid—had promise. Hull’s latest invention created a way for line to easily spool off of a reel without being tangled. That was huge news for fishermen. That meant no more backlash.
The Zero Hour Bomb Company bought it; the fishing industry was changed forever.
The first of Hull’s reels would spool off of the bomb company’s assembly lines in 1949. Thanks to a PR stunt involved a casting exhibition held with boxing gloves, anglers were quickly enamored. Suddenly, teaching anyone to fish became as easy as pushing a button.
Which brings us back to a winter afternoon in 1956. “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford was your Billboard Number One hit, but in Tulsa, R.D. Hull’s fishing reels reigned supreme. On that day, Zebco was born. And for a while, the roles were reversed. The Zero Hour Bomb Company continued to make time bombs as a division of the fishing business.
But within a few months, the iconic Zebco Model 33 would launch, sales would rise 280 percent, and the rest—they say— is history.