The main thing I've learned in the short time that I've been reading about, collecting, and
fishing with old Penn reels is that there isn't much documented history about Penn reels. Here's a little of what
I could scrape together. I'm sure there's more out there that I don't know about.
Otto Henze, who worked for Ocean City Reels, left and started his own fishing reel company in 1932,
called Penn Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Company. The new company was born on the 3rd. floor of 492 North Third Street
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Mod F and the MOD K were Mr. Henze's first reels in 1932. The Mod F was a 12-ounce surf casting reel with
genuine bakelite side plates. The Mod K had many of the same parts as the Mod F but with a lever type free
spool and metal reinforced side plates. Two types of MOD K's were developed - one with a star drag, and one without.
Henze was issued a patent for a reel design by the U.S. Patent Office in 1933. If you've ever seen the inside of
a Penn conventional reel, you'll quickly realize that the design is still in use today.
In 1933, Penn began selling reels to the general public. The Mod F was renamed Sea Hawk,
the Mod K without a star drag was renamed Bayside, the MOD K with a star drag was renamed Long Beach.
The company's first recorded sale occurred in February 1933 to the Miller Auto Supply Company
of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Miller purchased one of each Penn reel - a Sea Hawk for $1.21, a Bayside for $1.93 and
a Long Beach for $2.48.
In 1936, Penn introduced its most famous reel, the "Senator." It was a revolutionary new reel
capable of challenging the biggest, most powerful game fish. The Penn Senator quickly became a popular reel used
for world record catches. While legendary fishermen like Zane Grey, Ernest Hemingway and Michael Lerner were
traveling the world setting records, the "Senator" gave every fisherman and woman a chance to set a record
with its very affordable $25 price.
In 1938, Otto Henze introduced the PENN Squidder, a surf reel known for its superior casting
capabilities. The company became the leading manufacturer of quality saltwater fishing reels. Pictures of record
size fish were sent to PENN from all over the world. Penn Reels became the mainstay of charter boat captains
and serious anglers for their performance and reliability.
Many models of Penn conventional reels were made over a number of years. The Squidder is no
longer made, but you can still buy a "new old stock" Squidder or Jigmaster at a number of tackle suppliers.
Penn still makes reels today, but they don't have the "look and feel" of the older Penn reels.
I've read a few snippets here and there that Penn reels and parts are now made in China, but I can't verify that
fact. Gone are the burgundy side plates, replace by mostly black ones. Gone are the embossed fishing scenes found
on the sides of older Penn reels. Gone are the embossed logos and fishing scenes on the side plates, replaced by
plastic stick on logos that usually fall off and get lost after a few years.
Mr. Henze was not only an inventor, I think, but he probably was a very smart business man. Many
models of Penn conventional reels have interchangeable parts, which probably was done to save production costs. If
you put a Longbeach 60 and a 65 together next to each other on the table, you can't tell the two apart. Many of the
different models of reels were the same "size" - probably so that parts could be interchanged.
Dating A Penn Reel - It's virtually impossible to figure out exactly what year a Penn reel was made. Would have been
nice if Penn had stamped a production date on each reel, but that didn't happen. So that Squidder you have in the
closet may have been made in 1939 - but then again, it may have been made in 1979.
I've discovered a few subtle ways to help determine how old a Penn reel is. At one point, I have no idea when, the
reels were no longer made with wooden handles; the handles were made from plastic. So if you have a Penn with a
wooden handle, it's probably pretty old. The shape of the handles changed also, the easily recognized Penn plastic knob
was originally shaped like a football - with pointed ends - and at some point the ends of the knob became rounded, so the
pointed knobs are found on older reels.
Side plates have changed over the years too. At one time, the high end reels had an embossed scene
on the side plate opposite the handle - a lighthouse, a fisherman on the beach, or a Marlin jumping. Some reels have
simply the word "PENN" written on the side plate, and some of the later models have nothing at all - just a plain bakelite
side plate with nothing written on it.
When most people think of a Penn conventional reel, they picture the dark burgundy, later year brighter red,
or black side plates. Penn actually made some models for a few years that were green and grey. If you ever see a picture of the
green or grey Penns, you'll quickly realize why those colors didn't last for more than a few years. Apparently the green and gray
reels are very scarce and collectors go after them with a passion. If I had one, I probably keep it in the closet because
they are so ugly.
Boxes have changed over the years too. The original boxes had the prices on them and looked like the
one in the next picture. In 1960, Penn changed to a much more modern looking blue box and in later years to green, red,
and tan boxes. If you're lucky enough to find a reel still with it's original box and it looks like this one, then it's
a pre 1960 reel.