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The History Of Hardy - A Very Special Brand

The History Of Hardy - A Very Special Brand
Posted in: Our Brands
History - Since 1872

All over the globe, there are people who love to fish and in the universal language of the sport, one name reigns supreme - that of Hardy.

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.

Hardy 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.

In September, 1988, Hardy acquired their manufacturer of quilted and waxed garments as part of Hardy's growing clothing division. Changes in demand led to that division being closed in the late 1990's and today's extensive ranges of high-performance clothing are sourced from high quality manufacturers worldwide.

The third division of Hardy is the composite tubing business previously known as Fibatube but now called Hardy Advanced Composites. At the leading edge of composite tube technology, the division has established an enviable reputation for innovation, design, quality, service and manufacturing expertise over 25 years. Many of the technical attributes required to produce the finest fishing rods have been utilised to supply tubular components for Formula 1 racing cars, artificial limbs, the A320 Airbus and a wide range of high-tech defence products.

Greys Fishing

In 1999 Hardy acquired the rod manufacturer Greys which had been founded in 1968 by Mr Grey when he left Hardy's employment. Hardy has developed the Greys brand such that it now includes the best value for money ranges of salmon and trout tackle available and top quality carp tackle.

In 2004 the Company's name was changed from House of Hardy Ltd to Hardy & Greys Ltd better to reflect the diverse range of the Company's products.

Chub Fishing

In 2005 Chub was acquired, bringing a further wide range of coarse tackle and accessories into the Hardy fold.

At its Alnwick base, Hardy designs all the ranges of tackle sold under the Hardy, Greys and Chub brand names. Extensive investment in advanced computing software, in finite element analysis techniques and in custom designed static and dynamic testing rigs ensure that all equipment both meets the high Hardy quality standards but also that it satisfies even the most demanding angler. Hardy's manufacturing facilities ensure that all prototypes can be manufactured and tested under the most rigorous conditions. Hardy continues to win international accolades for its products. An example being the prestigious and rigorous 2003 "Fly Fish America" Magazine's Tackle Review "Editor's Choice" which selected the Hardy GEM reel as the best saltwater fly reel made today.

 

To View All Hardy Fly Fishing Tackle Click Here

For well over a century, Hardy has been renowned for producing some 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.

PART-TIME TACKLE TART 

When I was a teenager at the start of my fly fishing journey in the 1980’s, there was only one fishing brand that I coveted. I still have my first rod and reel (a Shakespeare Sigma and a Leeda Rimfly) and they occupy a very special place in my heart, although they are both long retired. What I really wanted back then, but what my pocket money or even birthdays couldn’t stretch to, was a Hardy rod and reel.

To me it represented the pinnacle of fly fishing tackle. A British brand, full of history and heritage, yet with innovation at its core, making only the finest quality  products. It would be nearly 30 years before I finally owned a Hardy outfit. My 8ft #4 Zephrus rod and Marquis LWT 4 reel are my regular set up on my little home beat, and I still smile every time I put them together by the riverbank.

Like many anglers, over the years I’ve accumulated a range of rods and reels from an assortment of fantastic brands. My wife is amazed someone needs as many, neither can she understand why I might want more, especially when only a few of them regularly see any action.

I love each and every one of them. The more recent ones perform around the same high levels, they deliver exactly what I need them to. But the truth is I love some of them more than others. And I think that’s to do with how they make me feel. And that, dear reader, is the power of brands.

A Hardy rod and reel leant up against a fence, Simon's river setupA Hardy rod and reel leant up against a fence, Simon's river setup
My Hardy set-up for my local river

The Hardy brand is synonymous with quality, excellence and service, and they have been building that brand around those elements for over 150 years. So, while I already know a fair amount about them, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into this illustrious brand.

HOW IT ALL STARTED AT HARDY

Hardy history began in 1872, when William Hardy established himself as a gunsmith in his hometown 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, and their favourite hobby became their profession. 

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE PROPERLY… 

At first the brothers bought in most of the tackle they sold, their reels, for example, coming from Malloch.

However, as the firm expanded, Hardys found themselves with a reputation for superior quality tackle to defend and realised that they could hardly continue to depend on products made by competitors.

William Hardy in 1872William Hardy in 1872
William Hardy

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 fly 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, after three years of patient development, they launched a fly reel which became their most famous product, the Perfect. It was an instant success and the firm has built it, with occasional interruptions, right up to the present day, a feat that no other tackle manufacturer can even begin to challenge.  

Old and newer Hardy Perfect fly reelOld and newer Hardy Perfect fly reel
Perfect not just in name…

CONSTANT INNOVATION

Throughout its history, Hardy 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.

Their 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. 

A Hardy innovation from 1895, the combined fly and spinner   A Hardy innovation from 1895, the combined fly and spinner
A Hardy innovation from 1895, the combined fly and spinner

EVER EXPANDING

For the first few decades of the firm's existence, Hardy’s business activities were confined to Alnwick, after the brothers had expanded into comfortable new premises in Bondgate in 1887, but a decade later they opened a shop at 61 Pall Mall in London (a stone’s throw from our sister brand Farlows, now at 9 Pall Mall). It was destined to become nearly as famous an address as their Northumberland factory.

Forster Hardy moved down south to manage the shop and stayed for over twenty years, finally resigning in early 1920, by which time Hardy had become a worldwide business and a major force in the tackle industry. 

At the beginning of every year, Forster was invited to the palace so the King George V could review the latest range of tackle, and a similar service was offered to other royal patrons, usually at the Savoy Hotel.

By 1900, Hardy had warehouses in Edinburgh and Manchester in addition to their premises in Alnwick and London, and as export orders increased the firm found it necessary to appoint agents abroad, so that by the late twenties they had built up a network that stretched from Brussels to China and Australia. 

Hardy Store on Pall MallHardy Store on Pall Mall
Hardy Store on Pall Mall

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.

The 1914 Hardy catalogueThe 1914 Hardy catalogue
The 1914 Hardy catalogue

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, it has continued to expand its range.

Hardy made an encyclopaedic range of tackle and they quickly filled their much anticipated catalogues with everything from rods and flies to lures and floats, it frequently being forgotten that the firm ran a substantial coarse fishing business right up to the beginning of the Second World War. The consequence was that the pre-war "Anglers' Guides" landed with a satisfying thud on the doormat, the 1929 edition being regarded as quite unremarkable for a Hardy catalogue of its day, despite exceeding the length of the average novel at 374 pages.

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 than 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.


Hardy Logo and Royal WarrantHardy Logo and Royal Warrant

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. It was opened by HRH The Princess Margaret in July 1987. Many of the exhibits were lent by their devotees round the world as well as by the Hardy family and its employees. The museum was half of an imposing complex which also housed the Hardy Compleat Angler Store in which all current Hardy products were on permanent display and available to retail customers.

In 1999 Hardy acquired the rod manufacturer Greys which had been founded in 1968 by Mr Malcolm Grey when he left Hardy's to set up on his own. Hardy has developed the Greys brand such that it now includes the best value for money ranges of salmon and trout tackle available and top quality carp tackle. In 2004 the Company's name was changed from House of Hardy Ltd to Hardy & Greys Ltd better to reflect the diverse range of the Company's products.


The Latest Hardy Tackle & Gear


HARDY TODAY

Alnwick is the home of Hardy and to celebrate 150 years that the Company has been connected there, they moved back to where it all started, opening a premises just a few hundred yards from their original factory, with a retail space and of course a museum.

Hardy designs all the ranges of tackle sold under the Hardy brand name. Extensive investment in advanced computing software, infinite element analysis techniques and in custom designed static and dynamic testing rigs ensure that all equipment both meets the high Hardy quality standards but also that it satisfies even the most demanding angler. Their manufacturing facilities ensure that all prototypes can be manufactured and tested under the most rigorous conditions. And not surprisingly, Hardy continues to win international accolades for its products.  

The Hardy store today in Alnwick, with museum upstairs The Hardy store today in Alnwick, with museum upstairs
The Hardy store today in Alnwick, with museum upstairs

Even though Hardy is no longer a family business, the Company continues to value its tradition as well as its founders' endless quest for improvement. In the past decade or so, Hardy has paid homage to its history with several lines of reels designed specifically for the collectors' market - these ranges have tended to sell out very quickly and have provided many anglers with a second chance to own reels which would otherwise be far outside their price range.

However, collecting is not what Hardy is about and at the time of writing, the firm remains at the cutting edge of tackle development, with its rods and reels continuing to win awards all over the world every year. The Hardy Fortuna Regent saltwater fly reel won Best Fly Fishing Reel and Accessory Award at ICAST 2022, while its latest rod the Hardy Marksman Z captured the prestigious Best in Category Win for Fly Fishing Rod at ICAST 2023.

It's easy to see why so many people still love Hardy. Their 150 year plus quest for excellence ensures their products are always of the finest quality. But owning a Hardy means so much more, it’s about being a part of an illustrious and British fly fishing heritage, one that helped shape the world of fishing tackle, and long may it continue to do so.  

2024-06-25 12:31:00
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Kevin
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I've come across a hardy rod with a patent number 2087622 can't find it online I think it's pre 1930s anyone help me work out when it was patented ??
John Dicks
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I have a Hardy fibreglass rod with the Rod in Hand logo. Serial number H59674. I am having trouble reading the red hand painted name. So far, with magnification it reads "LR Hardy . . . .kona" The first part of the kona name is stylized and the contrast with the unpainted blank is very poor. Is it possible this is Palakona? If so, when did Hardy start branding the glass rods with Palakona when the name has such a rich heritage in split cane rods? Any info would be appreciated. thanks, John
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