For well over a century, Hardy has been renowned as the manufacturer of the finest game fishing tackle in the world – the name is synonymous with quality and excellence. Such reputations are not acquired easily, but it has never faltered throughout the Company’s long history.
That history began in 1872, when William Hardy established himself as a gunsmith in his home town of Alnwick, Northumberland. A year later he was joined by his brother, John James, and the Hardy Brothers Partnership came into being. The high quality guns which they sold ranged from shotguns to pistols. However, despite their success, the Hardy brothers’ passion for fishing soon dictated a change in direction. Their favourite hobby became their profession, and the reputation of Hardy rods and reels was born.
To begin with, lancewood, hickory and greenheart rods were produced, but, by 1880, bamboo had been added to the range. The Company was the first manufacturer to invent a system for building rods in hexagonal form from bamboo. The Hardy Palakona bamboo rod won the Company’s first exhibition gold medal in 1881. Hardy products only stopped winning when gold medals were no longer presented at such exhibitions.
In 1891, the first Hardy “Perfect” reel was patented. This design has stood the test of time, and, although there have been one or two minor alterations, the same basic model is manufactured today. Throughout its history, the Company has been responsible for some of the most radical advances in tackle design. It was the first to market bridge rings, spiral lock-fast joints, stud-lock joints, split-end joints, and “W” and screw-grip fittings for salmon and trout rods. It developed ball bearing reels and was the first to feature the check mechanism housed within the reel arbour and introduced the first large arbour reel in 1911.
The Company’s record of innovation is a testament to the wealth of expertise invested in it. Among the three generations of Hardy’s involved in the firm, there have been some great anglers, beginning with John James who became World Champion Fly Caster. His nephew “LRH” became the most celebrated fly fisherman of his day: his prowess in casting reached almost legendary proportions. James L Hardy (JLH), grandson of the founder William, carried on the tradition in tournament casting. He held 25 British National Professional records, 10 British All-Comers Professional records and three times was World Professional Champion Caster. Jim retired from the company in early 1992 and as a consultant assisted with product development; his long awaited history of the Hardy family was published in 1998.
Although for the majority of its history, Hardy has remained a family firm, its very success decreed that it would not remain a partnership for long. In 1907 it was incorporated as a Limited Company, and in 1928 it went public. In 1933, Hardy Brothers (Alnwick) Limited extended its operations to include golf club manufacture. However, although Hardy wooden golf clubs also reached a high level of acclaim, the venture was closed in 1935 with the arrival of steel shafts into the market. Instead, the Company established itself as the absolute specialist in fishing tackle. Notwithstanding a brief interlude during World War II when it produced munitions, the Company has continued to expand its range.
Alnwick, England, became famous as the birthplace of this angling institution and the annual Hardy catalogue became the “bible” for all those who sought either knowledge of, or the best of fishing equipment itself – these catalogues have become very collectible items.
The list of Hardy devotees is as long as it is impressive. No less that 10 Royal Warrants of appointment, including those of the late King George V and the last three Princes of Wales, have been awarded to Hardy during this last century.
In 1967 Hardy Brothers (Alnwick) Limited became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Harris & Sheldon Group Ltd. A severe slump in the industry in the late 1970’s eventually resulted in a three day week in 1983. This was the Company’s nadir. In spite of the then difficult circumstances, the company survived, with its reputation intact and was the first to patent the graphite fly rod which surpassed fibreglass in performance.
A Hardy reel became the holder of the first American Kudos Award for Design Excellence; and in 1984, House of Hardy was the first non-Japanese manufacturer to receive a Japanese Industrial Design Award winning not one but five. In the same year, Hardy (USA) Inc, was established as a marketing subsidiary to handle the growing demand in the American angling market. In 1985, the company name was changed to “House of Hardy Limited” to encompass the new and extended activities. The following year, this exceptional record was rewarded when in April, 1986, the Company received the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement.
To ensure that some of the fishing tackle memorabilia in the Company’s possession was preserved for posterity, Hardy then decided to build a museum at its Alnwick headquarters. This was opened by HRH The Princess Margaret in July, 1987, and is unique. Many of the exhibits have been lent by the Company’s many devotees round the world as well as by the Hardy family and by employees. The museum is half of an imposing complex which also houses the Hardy Compleat Angler Store in which all current Hardy products are on permanent display and available to retail customers.