Back in 2014 I was sent an ad from a 1955 issue of Field and Stream that showcased the new ABU 5000 reel. The ad was sent to me from Bass Fishing Archives writer and bass fishing historian, Bill Sonnett. Bill is an ardent fan of ABU reels, having used them since 1964, and felt that I’d like to see the early ad. He was right. But what happened next got me pretty excited from a historical point of view. Here’s part of the early history of the ABU 5000.
As I stated above, Bill Sonnett sent me the 1955 ad and when I looked at it, I had some questions for him. First off, the ad is debuting the new Swedish Ambassadeur level wind reel – models 5000 and 6000 – and nowhere in the ad was the name Garcia.
This confused me a bit, so I sent Bill an email and asked if he knew why there was no mention of Garcia and who Julian A. Wesseler was. Bill directed me to a gentleman who he said, “Has forgotten more about ABU than you and I will ever know.” That man is Fred Ribb.
So, I sent Fred an email asking the same question and received, almost instantly, a reply. Here’s what Fred said:
“When the Ambassadeur bait caster came to America in 1954, it was Julian A. Wesseler that secured the contract with ABU to sell their reel. The reel was actually offered to the Garcia Corp. first, but Tom Lenk (Garcia’s company head) showed little interest. It wasn’t long before Tom saw the reel’s potential, and a deal was struck between Garcia and ABU in 1956. Garcia cataloged the Ambassadeur for the first time in 1957.”
So that answered my questions about Garcia’s absence from the ad and who Julian A. Wesseler was. It sure didn’t take Garcia long to realize their mistake. I wonder how much it cost them to buy the account from Wesseler?
On a side note, I have always been enthralled with the early ABU reels through the 1970s and early 80s. The 5000C was the first reel I bought with my own money in 1976 and, by the time I graduated high school in 1982, I owned more than a dozen ABUs ranging from 1500Cs to 2500Cs and 4500Cs to 5500Cs. They were bullet proof, parts were easy to locate and I could service them myself when needed.
Part of the reason I liked them so much was everybody who meant anything to me in bass fishing used them. This included the late writer. casting star and dear friend Stan Fagerstrom. Stan was instrumental in my development as a bass angler. As a kid, I read everything he wrote down to the hyphen and period. Then, later in life, I got to meet him.
When I started this site, I wrote a biography on his career in the industry. Through that I found out he was the first person in the western United States to get to see and fish with the new ABU 5000. We talked about that experience he had in 1956 and how he wouldn’t give the reels back to the Garcia Rep when he showed up to ask his opinion of the reels. “Terry, they were so far superior to the Langleys I was using at the time, I would never have believed it.” This conversation was in 2012.
Fast forward now to early 2015.
At the time I was thumbing through a stack of 1950s The Fisherman magazines. I got to the March 1954 issue and towards the back was a product review by the Executive Editor Art Hutt, simply named, It Looks Good To Me. It wasn’t the title that caught my eye, but the image. It looked like an ABU 5000. I eagerly read the review and was surprised it was of the new Swedish Ambassadeur. According to Hutt, he’d only had the reel for two weeks at the time he wrote the review and was more than impressed. He described the mechanics of the reel along with its features. He noted the color as “maroon but more on the reddish side,” and that it came with a leather case, lube oil and a tube of extra parts. There was no mention of the model number just a solid review of what this reel offered over the U.S. competitors’ reels. In fact, Hutt made note to American manufacturers that, “[You] would do well to take note of this neat, attractive production.”
The cost of the reel in 1954 was $45.00, roughly equivalent to $450.00 in today’s money. Funny thing is these early reels go for way more than $450.00 now in auctions.
I sat in amazement reading this review, knowing it was probably one of the first reviews of an Ambassadeur reel in the U.S. To a history junky like myself, it was an amazing find.
Having found this review, I thought that surely there had to be an ad in one of the later magazines. Sure enough, I was right. I didn’t have to dig too far either, as the June 1954 issue had the first ad placed in The Fisherman magazine. Again, I’m not sure what the earliest date for an ABU ad is but this must be awful close to it.
Unlike the ad from 1955, this ad only has one reel in it, the Swedish Record Ambassadeur 5000. The ad describes the features of the reel such as the centrifugal braking system, “Urfabriken’s world-famous proven brake,” Lure weight control (the spool tension knob), level wind, drag and line capacity.
Now I was excited. I scanned the review and the ad and sent them off to Bill Sonnett. Bill responded that he’d never seen the ad or review and sent them to Fred Ribb. Ribb also confirmed he’d never seen the ad or review. At this time, I felt pretty lucky to have come across them and to have been able to contribute to the history of the ABU 5000. The reel that changed bass fishing.
It wasn’t just bass fishing that the ABU 5000 changed.
Back to my dear friend Stan Fagerstrom. In our conversations over the years, he told me that if it wasn’t for the ABU 5000, he may not have had the life he so much enjoyed in the industry. The Garcia rep who gave him those initial two reels had heard Stan was a pretty good caster and angler and offered to send him to a sport show in Los Angeles in the spring of 1957 to perform a casting show and help introduce the reels to the public. Stan jumped on the offer and that’s what led him to a career performing casting demonstrations all over the world. But I’ll leave that story for when I post his biography.
To say the ABU 5000 changed the sport of bass fishing would be an understatement. The ABU line of casting reels became the cornerstone reel for anyone serious about the sport through the 1980s. Every manufacturer copied details of the ABU reels to make their offerings better with little success. It wasn’t until Lew Childre in the mid-70s, working with Shimano, came out with something that could compete with ABU – that of course was the BB1 Speed Spool. But that’s another story.
If anyone out there knows of any other ads and/or reviews of the “new” Swedish Ambassadeur reel, we’d like to see them.
If you’re a bass fishing history junky like myself, I highly suggest you get Bill Sonnett’s books, Deconstructing Old Ads, by Whitefish Press. Bill has compiled three volumes of old ads where he takes and develops the history of bass fishing through the ads. I have all three volumes and find myself reading them almost daily. Another suggestion, if you’re interested in learning more about ABU, please go to Fred’s site, Fred’s Classic ABU Reel Information. His site has all sorts of cool ABU history that includes non-ABU Ambassadeurs, ABU Records and hard to find ABUs. If you like ABU/Garcia history, you’ll love his site.