From the origins of Mitchell in the Arve Valley of France, through its formative years in 1939, to its launch in 1942 and meteoric rise for "30 Glorious Years", to its place today in 2012 as one of the greatest fishing reels ever made! This is the story of how it all happened beginning in Arve Valley, Cluses, France.
Snuggled in the Arve Valley by the French Alps is a city named Cluses in eastern France, the birthplace of “The Mitchell” spinning reel. The French word “cluse” means a gap between mountains. This narrow gap is where the birth home is. The city was formed in 1310 when Baron Hugues de Faucigny Clusiens granted a Charter of Franchises, an act of empowerment that sets the municipal borders, the rights of Clusiens, and created the first form of governing elected officials.
In the early 18th Century an economic adventure began in Cluses when a man from the valley named Ballaloud first introduced watch making to Clusiens. He learned the art of watch making in Germany and started making many variations thus creating many jobs. Everyone worked together to produce different types of parts used in the composition of watches and clocks that were then resold in Geneva through major watchmaker centers. Throughout the century, the watch making industry increased. In 1848, the Piedmont government created a school in Cluses for Royal watches called Ecole Nationale d'Horlogerie de Cluses (Cluses National School of Watchmaking) that quickly became the center for teaching the clock making art.
On the eve of 1914, the school was the most famous of the three existing national institutions and began international recruitment. From this institution men such as Louis Carpano were born who will make the reputation of the valley. In addition to being a training center for young people, it was also the center for higher learning of new business technologies.
The original clock-making factory in Cluses was owned by Francois Jacottet but was bought by Louis Carpano who later on gave the factory to his nephew, Constant Carpano. Upon Constant's death in 1927, this factory was given to his heirs that included his son-in-law Charles Pons. In mid-1930 Charles Pons, now owner and CEO of Carpano & Pons employed Maurice Jacquemin, a top graduate from the French National Mechanics College in Paris, France.
During this same time, a fishing tackle company called La Canne à Pêche located in Angers, France started developing a reel they named after their own company called the C.A.P. They contracted Carpano & Pons for further development. Maurice had helped Mr. Pons with this reel but at the same time worked on another reel.
Maurice, now chief engineer, believed he could produce a reel that was not just a simple container to hold fishing line, but a precision tool that would cast at a greater distance with precision and be able to recover the fishing line without tangling. After years of research and development, the Mitchell moulinet spinning reel was born, a marked departure from the reels of its day in mechanics and appearance.
The revolutionary design incorporated special gearing and a longer axle to accommodate a wider spool between plates. In other words, the reel was designed around the spool. Due to the axle length required for the spool, the classic elongated “egg-shape” body was designed. The oscillation had to be increased by about 30% and extreme level-wind gearing was used.??
The first versions did not have any paint primer on any parts of the reel. For this reason you will not find one in very good appearance unless they’ve been restored. When you find one most of the paint will have fallen off. This is the main point to look for when trying to locate one. The “light” colored Rosewood Handle Knob also helps but many of these have long since deteriorated and replaced with round aluminum knobs. Please Click Here to see a Mitchell reel first version study.
This reel was named after Maurice Jacquimin's son Michel but French law prohibited proper names to be used as product brand names thus the "Anglicized" name Mitchell. Proof of this new discovery in 2011 will be released in our first newsletter. Old historians use to say it was named in honor of a son of the Carpano & Pons "Family" but later on it changed to Charles Pons named the reel in honor of his brother Mitchel. Over 70 years, the truth has finally been revealed.
Carpano & Pons began production of the C.A.P reel in 1937 and by 1939 both reels were in test run production we call first versions but in fact; they were pilot or test reels. In 1942 the first Mitchell second versions were produced for sale in France with several minor design changes up to 1946. The Mitchell third version started in 1946 and due to the forthcoming success, clock making was gradually lost and then completely disappears behind this new industry.
Export was quickly put in motion in 1946 by Jules Gumprich, owner of Impecco, Paris, an established import/export company with close ties to Carpano & Pons and La Canne à Pêche and his brother Otto Gumprich, owner of Charles Garcia & Company in America.
Otto and Jules had been working together starting in 1937, selling large quantities of Silkworm Gut. Demand was high since the varieties used for surgery and for leaders came in various lengths and diameters.Fishing lines of various sorts were also imported including the special double tapers for fly-fishing and the common braided lines, which were the only ones available for fishing reels at the time. Other imports included various raw materials such as Lamb Gut for tennis and badminton rackets as well as for stronger sutures, Kapok and other natural fibres used for domestic wares such as mattresses, carpets and so on.
Before the war, Jules had sent both reels to Otto with the suggestion they would be desirable products. The reel was shown to Richard C. (Dick) Wolff, an assistant in a New York tackle store, for appraisal. His report was favorable. Garcia got the agency and Dick Wolff joined the Company and rose to the position of a Vice President.
Tom Lenk, who had worked for Garcia back in 1938, returned from the 1939-45 conflicts and took to running the company alongside Otto Gumprich with their focus on these fishing reels beginning in 1947 with The Mitchell third version and the C.A.P reels.
Garcia on behalf of Carpano & Pons and the owner, Charles Pons, filed for a US Patent on August 3, 1948. Because of this some mistakenly believe The Mitchell was “invented” on this date but this is simply not true. Anyone involved with Mitchell history knows the true stories about allied soldiers returning from the war in Europe in 1945 with The Mitchell spinning reel. It was during this time when Tom Lenk, a marketing genius, took control of selling these new products.
In 1946 Millard Brothers – a major wholesaler in Britain a/k/a Milbro – took the Mitchell exclusive agency for U.K., known to be the first agent and the only one who actually sold The Mitchell second version reel.
The Canne à Pêche (CAP) Company was a major player for sales in France throughout all the years of Carpano & Pons. Albatros took the agency in 1947 for the Netherlands and a couple years later, Arca for Belgium and Balzer for Germany.
Initially the first Mitchell reels made and owned by Carpano & Pons were only made with the Mitchell name engraved but starting in the early 1950s the range grew with models covering both fresh and salt water of various sizes. These began with the Mitchell Salt Water, the Mitchell Otomatic and the Mitchell Rapid.
Tom Lenk's efforts were first publicly recognized in a New York Times newspaper article in February, 1951 with the reporter’s statement “The Mitchell, an import, is one of the finest spinning reels we ever tried” after seeing it at a NYC Sportsman’s Show! With sales volume rapidly expanding, Louis DeSimone opened Impecco Ltd. (USA) as the new and exclusive importer for Garcia and C&P in 1954 located at 268 Park Avenue in NYC. Garcia still handled the advertising, distribution and service.
During this same time period Otto Gumprich retired and Tom Lenk took over Garcia as President and changed the name to The Garcia Corporation, Inc. These North American Garcia and Impecco operations were family managed businesses under the leadership of four related families being: The Lenks, The DeSimones, The Mesiscas and The Pisapios for both The USA and Canada. Garcia Outdoor Sports Ltd. of Mississauga, Ontario, handled the Mitchell distribution for Canada.
Carpano & Pons privately announces the first Mitchell “milestone” in 1955 by celebrating 10,000 crates of Mitchell reels being exported. Each crate contained 60 reels for a total of 600,000 reels! It was then reported in The New York Times that “Mitchell reels were brought here shortly after WW2 by servicemen” and that “300,000 spinning reels came (imported) here in 1955, mostly Mitchell” and last but not least; “Garcia promoted this reel shortly after invention of mono-filament line”, a profound statement if you think about it!
Carpano & Pons again privately celebrates another Mitchell milestone in 1957 with the 1,000,000 Mitchell reel. This privacy was very well kept! These reels were only revealed in 2007, 50 years later, by Doug DeSimone, surviving son of Louis DeSimone. There had been rumors of a special reel that was painted by school children but that rumor turned out to be wrong.
In his search he has only been able to located two. One was originally presented to Otto Gumprich and the other recipient was Otto's brother, Jules Gumprich. We located Jean-Pierre (JP) Gumprich, surviving son of Jules Gumprich, nephew of Otto S. Gumprich and my new best friend and colleague. Turns out that he had inherited his father's reel.
By 1958 the Mitchell 300, Mitchell 302 (Salt Water), Mitchell 304 (round body), Mitchell 306 (intermediate), Mitchell 308 (ultra-light), Mitchell 330 (auto-bail) and the Mitchell 350 (high-speed) series reels were being marketed worldwide. Many other models evolved throughout the years from these original seven, too numerous to mention as you can see in our List of All Mitchell Reels Made in France page.
1962 marked the time of 5,000,000 Mitchell reels being made. There’s been much speculation as to exactly what Mitchell did to “privately” celebrate this milestone but nothing has been found to date. I believe there's a strong possibility of the Hand Engraved Mitchell 300 being a part of this celebration. Garcia moved from New York City to their permanent location in Teaneck, New Jersey in this same year.
In 1966 Mitchell privately celebrated 10,000,000 Mitchell reels sold. The 1966 10 Million Medallion shown was presented to Robert Lenk, VP of The Garcia Corporation for his valued contributions to Mitchell. Bob was Tom Lenk’s Brother.
By 1968 Mitchell was now producing several new models including the big game fishing reel series that had been in R&D for several years. By this time Garcia, USA was selling on average 80% of all Mitchell reels sales sold worldwide.
The Garcia family had been operating separate companies called Garcia Tackle in America and another Garcia Tackle in Canada but in 1967, Barrie Welham opened his own Garcia Tackle company, in England.
Barrie Welham had been a close personal friend of Tom Lenk, President of the Garcia Corporation in America, from his days at J.W. Young whom Garcia were presented for fly reels in America. Barrie had attended Garcia sales conferences in the U.S so he knew most of the key staff and also the innermost workings of the company. Elsewhere in the world, Mitchell reels were sold under various vendor names but in America and Canada, Mitchell was prefaced with Garcia to bond it into their wide range of fishing tackle products.
Garcia Mitchell reels had superior packaging and finer sales literature to the Mitchell reels sold anywhere else in the world. Barrie felt he needed something similar to get him going in England. He spoke to the Impecco owners and they jointly approached Tom Lenk who had no ambitions to enter the European market but liked the idea of having someone in the U.K. who could look after any Garcia visitors be they company or private friends of Tom Lenk. Tom doubted if the Garcia name could be registered, as they had once tried for this, but Barrie was successful and he registered the name and the new company was born but not as a Garcia subsidiary but as a fully independent company in 1967 in London, England.
Barrie moved his new business in 1968 to Southampton -the sea port where the consignments of Mitchell reels would arrive. From then on, all reels coming into U.K. were in Garcia U.S. boxes with Garcia U.S. literature but with a U.K. Guarantee card with Barrie’s picture (as Barrie says "the man in the trilby hat") together with a welcoming message. Up until 1967 the Millard Wholesale Company (Milbro) had been the Mitchell U.K. agent but they had chosen to import some cheaper reels from a company in Japan who later became the Diawa brand that's also famous to this day.
Barrie retained Millards as a wholesale distributor but also widened the U.K. distribution network to include other large wholesalers such as Forshaws of Liverpool, Pegley Davies and several others. Records show that Millards top ever year for sales was some 32,000 Mitchell reels with an average of around 28,000. In 1967, when Garcia U.K. (London) came on the scene they had sold some 19,000 with 4 months to go. In Barrie's next full year U.K. sales totaled over 50,000 and within three years, 100,000 and topped out at over 164,000. Most of these were fixed spools like the famous 300.
At the time it was as if nothing could stop the Mitchell brand. Every angling schoolboy aspired to owning a Mitchell, every match angler certainly had at least one and many had more. Richard Walkers British Record Carp was caught using a Mitchell 300. Chris Ball (Carp Talk Magazine) shown to the left is the proud owner of a very special Mitchell presentation reel given to Richard Walker by Mitchell. Many of the largest and most talked about coarse fishing competitions were won by anglers using Mitchell reels. The heaviest weight ever to win the All England match was taken on a Mitchell.
These outstanding achievements were recognized by the U.K. Garcia Company with a top quality, beautifully engraved, laurel wreath medal that are still highly coveted by tackle collectors today. In 1971 Barrie received the very special Silver Mitchell 300 20-Millionth celebration reel shown below that was presented to National Agents to commemorate the worldwide sale of 20 million Mitchell reels. The other reel collectors refer to as the Mitchell 410 20-Millionth Global was also presented to a select few top executives.
In a 1971 press release it’s reported by Carpano & Pons that out of 83 counties importing Mitchell reels, The Garcia Corporation was importing 65% of all exports. “Each week, 25 tons of reels are dispatched from Cluses bound for the American fishermen.” This article also states they were currently making 10,000 Mitchell reels per day with 15% of these being sold in France. The 83 countries were selling to over 5,600 retailers.
The main purpose of this article was to announce that on June 22, 1971; 20,000,000 Mitchell reels had been made since March 1947. This date is when “four large French companies set up the Industrial Group Carpano & Pons” to begin what I call mass-production of the 3rd version Mitchell. Group Carpano & Pons and Cluse in Haute-Savoie hosted representatives from all 83 countries in a celebration of this event. For reasons unknown, two different 20,000,000 presentation reels were presented as shown above.
The Garcia Corporation was a dominant and revolutionary force in the fishing tackle market and purchased “Mitchell” from Carpano & Pons on June 17, 1974. To celebrate this occasion a very special Garcia Mitchell 300DL was made in France and presented to a few top executives.
The one shown was presented to Louis DeSimone, President of Impecco, USA. At this point in time, The Garcia Corporation was a highly successful operation with annual revenues rising from $50.1 million in 1970 to $100.1 million in 1975. Suffering from over diversification, in 1977 Garcia had to sell the majority stock in “Mitchell” back to Ets Carpano & Pons and the primary focus was placed back on selling Mitchell fishing reels but it was too late. On August 10, 1978 The Garcia Corporation declared bankruptcy and closed forever.
Carpano & Pons and Impecco had been meeting with various tackle companies to find another North American distributor for Mitchell. This included Browning and many other interested tackle companies including Garcia Tackle, Garcia Canada and Zebco but by 1980, exclusive distribution rights was awarded to Browning. The bankruptcy courts did not allow Garcia Tackle or Garcia Canada due to close family ties.
Abu Sweden purchased the Garcia Tackle (USA) assets and most important, the Garcia name. Distribution of all Abu products in North America moved to Fairfield, New Jersey under Abu’s new name, Abu Garcia, Inc.
Mitchell, a separate company owned by Carpano & Pons, continued suffering from the tremendous financial losses from Garcia’s bankruptcy. This along with the loss of Garcia's perfected marketing skills, service and pipeline and many other factors led to Mitchell's bankruptcy in 1981.
Garcia Tackle (USA) was reestablished under the Abu Garcia label. They wanted a world exclusive on the Garcia name and Barrie sold it to them in 1981. He then needed a name that was not too noticeable different and REELS was the first choice. It was short and ended in an S and was outlined by a red box similar to the Garcia red wedge. Barrie then changed his company name to LEEDA, a wholesale fishing tackle company selling many name brands.
As a footnote to Barrie's future involvement, he sold the Leeda Company in 1991, along with subsidiary companies such as British Fly Reels and a share in Steades of Sheffield to Porter Chadburn, a venture capitalist company. The Leeda Company lives on to this day as the largest U.K. fishing tackle company.
After Mitchell's bankruptcy, Jean-Pierre Gumprich, son of Jules, was then president and CEO of Impecco, Paris and fought for ownership of Mitchell but the French courts awarded ownership to Philippe Blime who had already been hired by Carpano & Pons to run Mitchell the year before. Mr. Blime started Mitchell Sports who would eventually become the sole distributor of Mitchell reels worldwide.
Mitchell had appointed various importers but starting in 1984 Mitchell Sports of France took over distribution of all Mitchell reels worldwide, thereby closing the doors to the Browning and Garcia (Canada) relationship with Mitchell. Just as they took control there was a surge and Mitchell finally appeared to be on a rebound. This is during the time of new models reels like the PRO line, the S-series, the 400G and other fine reels but unfortunately it turned out to be too late.
The French assembly plants started closing in 1988 and though a few good reels like the Mitchell 300 PRO 45th anniversary reel were still assembled in France, most parts were sent to Thailand for assembly. The engineering quality, for which Mitchell, France was famous, and the quality of their Mitchell reels has never been surpassed. They built many millions of reels and there has never been a range of any other major item of fishing tackle, be it rods, reels, lines, that has achieved anything like the same quantity for a single brand and producer.
In 1990 Johnson Worldwide Associates (JWA), a successful company well known for their Johnson line of fishing reels and other tackle purchased Mitchell Sports. At this time they claimed over 30 million Mitchell 300 fishing reels alone had been sold!
In 2000 Pure Fishing purchased the Mitchell brand as part of their JWA fishing products acquisition. Pure Fishing with locations worldwide still owns the Mitchell brand name but has also acquired many other famous fishing tackle brands including Abu Garcia, Penn, Shakespeare and many others.
Pure Fishing, Inc. is a subsidiary of the mighty Jarden Corporation, headquartered in Rye, NY. Click Here to find it all at Pure Fishing where the Mitchell story is never-ending!
This Mitchell Fishing Reel Story is an accumulation of 12 years of hard research and one of the last things I wanted to do on my bucket list. Please enjoy. Respectfully submitted, Wallace Carney