Helin Factory mural painting, sometime between 1956 and 1962.

In today’s historic photo, of the Helin Tackle Company mural, we take a look back at the kind of advertising and picturesque identification with which Charles Helin adorned his factory. It’s a very cool photo that shows mural artists actually working on the mural back in the day. We’ve also got before and after images of the factory as well as the current state of the property.

As the image above shows, two artists/craftsmen work on the mural from atop a simple scaffolding. The mural is essentially a two-piece painting, with text of the left and image on the right. I believe the artist is one E.J. Madsen, if it’s safe to assume that the name on the scaffolding is any indication. Unfortunately, I cannot be sure of that as I found nothing on an E.J. Madsen in an Internet search of either artists or the Helin factory mural. So I’m going to make a few assumptions here, which while they seem reasonable I admit could be completely wrong. So, if anyone has any accurate documentation to flesh out the reality of the mural, please do share it with us so that we can present an accurate history of what’s going on in these photos.

The entire mural looks to be around three-quarters completed, and shows a leaping smallmouth bass on the right, hooked with a Helin Flatfish in its upper lip. The left panel reads, or soon will read, “Home of the Famous Flatfish & Fishcake, World’s Largest Selling Plug.” Charles Helin titled his yearly company brochure “The Flatfish, World’s Largest Selling Plug.”

I’m assuming that the man on the right side of the mural is Madsen, as he is dressed more professionally, with collared shirt and fedora, than the fellow on the left, who is wearing a tee-shirt and what looks like a ball cap or painters cap, and who is working on the lettering, “THE WORLD’S LARGEST SELLING PLUG.” The fellow on the right (Madsen?) is working on the water plants in the painting, and if this man is the artist it would make sense that he would be working on the scene of a bass breaking the water. It would also make sense that an assistant would be given the task of filling in the text, as that would be a job perhaps requiring a bit less creative license than painting a large jumping smallmouth bass near a plant-covered shoreline.

Helin was a man who knew the value of advertising, and he put a good deal of money into doing just that. Along with his yearly catalog brochure, Helin included paper inserts in each lure box that left the factory. He also advertised with numerous magazine print ads, countertop displays and apparently other promotional items.

Located at 4099 Beaufait Steet in Detroit, MI, this mural is on what I believe is the easterly side of the building and was painted sometime between 1956 and 1962. Helin’s Fishcake lure was introduced in 1956, with the patent filed on March 5 of that year. The patent for the Fishcake was finalized on Dec. 12, 1961. Below we have two separate images of the factory, the first from 1956, which shows no mural and only large “HELIN TACKLE COMPANY” lettering above the second story windows of the five story building. This image came from Helin’s 1956 brochure, the issue that introduced the Fishcake. The second image is from the 1962 brochure and shows the completed mural, along with a much larger “HELIN TACKLE CO.” below the 5th story windows of the north side of the factory and “HOME OF THE FLATFISH & FISHCAKE” directly below the 4th story windows.

So, the mural was completed sometime between those years of 1956 and 1962. It is certainly possible, if not probable, that Helin would have made mention of the mural in one of his brochures during those years. Unfortunately, I only own the 1956 booklet. If anyone out there has access to any of the other brochures it would be much appreciated if you could see if, in fact, Helin did mention the new mural and in what year the image appeared in the brochure. If you could comment on this article with that information we would welcome your input.

Helin Tackle Company factory, 1956. Source: "The Flatfish" - Helin Tackle Company brochure, 1956.
Helin Tackle Company factory in 1962. Source: "The Flatfish" - Helin Tackle Company brochure, 1962. Courtesy of mybaitshop.com.

Unfortunately, the Helin Tackle Company factory on Beaufait Street no longer stands. It was built in 1917 but was demolished sometime after 1988 when Yakima Bait Company purchased Helin Tackle and moved operations from Detroit to Granger, Washington. Below are two images of what the property looks like now.

Location of former Helin factory, 4099 Beaufait St., Detroit, MI.
Location of former Helin factory, 4099 Beaufait St., Detroit, MI.

This image documents a piece of fishing history, a once giant, dynamic lure company that proudly displayed the effectiveness of their product in catching bass (and other fish) on a large, colorful mural with bold text announcing themselves to anyone who happened to pass by. Charles Helin had a lot of pride in his lure creations, and he wasn’t shy about declaring his Flatfish and Fishcake as the world’s premier fish catching plugs. He also wasn’t modest about using dramatic language to make his point. In one of his lure box paper inserts, the text reads, in part, that “The Fishcake will catch fish 24 hours a day. Fun? Wait until you are out fishing someday when your game fish are on the feed. Almost every cast will produce, and such sensational strikes as to scare you out of your boat.” The only thing missing are more capital letters and multiple exclamation points.

I found this picture on eBay and had to have it. It struck me, as I said above, as a piece of fishing history that would otherwise be lost to time. Shoot, even the once-proud factory itself is now gone with nothing but a grassy lot in its place. That’s a shame. This photograph made me want to dig deeper, to learn more about the evolution and ultimately the decline of Helin Tackle, and of other historical fishing companies. Surely more photos were taken and are out there waiting to be rediscovered and documented. Wouldn’t it be great to have more images of the interior and exterior of a factory like Helin Tackle, of the work being done by workers and craftsmen to create the lures, rods, reels and accouterments of our sport? You bet it would. So, if you have anything of that nature, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.