BY JIM MERCIER
Of course, we all know that S. C. Johnson manufactures RAID, a product that eliminates and controls insects. But did you know that another company in Racine actually MADE insects? Well, technically, imitation insects, which by the way, was also the name of the company…The Imitation Insect Laboratory. So, my friends, please read on and absorb a little Racine history…this time, all about bugs!
These “imitation insects,” were, of course, used for fly fishing, as any fisherman will tell you. And since I’m not a fly fisherman myself, I decided to get a little help from Wikipedia. Here is their definition…”Fly fishing is an angling method in which an artificial ‘fly’ is used to catch fish. The fly is cast using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. Casting a nearly weightless fly (or ‘lure’), requires casting techniques significantly different from other forms of casting.”
Well, now you know what fly fishing is all about. It would follow that the more realistic the lure is, the better the chances of catching fish. That is exactly what Arthur L. Wolfe thought as well…to make realistic-looking insect lures which would attract fish. Unlike many other commercial feather-flies, his artificial insects were extremely natural looking, including life-like wings, legs, antennae…even eyes!
Wolfe studied to become a teacher at Whitewater State Teachers College where he took an interest in insects. After a stint at teaching, he worked for the Manufacturers’ National Bank in Racine, and later, at First National Bank and Trust Co. of Racine. In 1942, he was appointed “industrial coordinator” for the old Racine Vocational and Adult Education school, where he was an advisor for part-time students who were also employed at various Racine firms. He retired from there in 1953. This former teacher, bank officer, and advisor could now enjoy his hobby full-time…manufacturing “imitation insects” for fly fishing. His laboratory and manufacturing facility were based in his home, which was located at 423 Shelley Drive.
In 1939, he applied for a patent for his special rubber-based paste used in manufacturing his insects, which was granted in 1941. In his own words, he states that, “My invention relates to improvements in fish lures and the process in manufacturing them. The object of my invention is to produce fish lures which have a close imitation of living insects, and at the same time, to provide waterproof and durable bodies and appendages capable of enduring longtime use. All parts of my lures are bonded in place by adhesives. Another element of my invention is to so construct the basic structural elements of my lures as to provide an extremely strong body and strong attachments of the body extremities.”
Since no particular lure catches all the fish all the time, Wolfe made a variety of them, which can be seen in the photo. However, it would appear that he manufactured his lures from 1953 to 1954 only, according to Racine city directories. During those years, he’s listed as a “bait manufacturer,” but by 1955, that designation was removed.
There is a quote on the box which says, “Fish take them because they recognize them,” which asks the question…did they really work? I guess we’ll never know the answer to that, however, but if you’re wondering if they looked realistic, the answer is a definite yes! When I experimented on my wife by placing one on our kitchen table, she immediately yelled, and raced for the fly swatter. Case closed.
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia. Some of his collection is in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneurs exhibit. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org