The Berkley story is pure Americana- a story about humble beginnings and hard earned success. It all began in Spirit Lake, Iowa, in 1937, when 16-year old Berkley Bedell took $50.00 earned from his paper route to start a business selling hand-tied flies to tackle shops. He tied the flies in his bedroom, with hair clipped from the family dog and feathers from the backyard chickens.
By the time Berk graduated from high school …in 1939, he was employing several area girls to
make flies from silkworm gut, and cable wire leaders. The business soon outgrew Berk’s parent’s basement, so he rented space in the second floor of the local grocery store. In 1945, after attending university and serving in the Army Air Corps, Berk returned to Spirit Lake to start Berkley & Company, a business focused on cable wire leaders. While reading Popular Science, Berk learned about a company making nylon coated wire for use in fishing leaders. A visit to this company soon gave birth to Steelon leader production in Spirit Lake.
Berk next became interested in extruding nylon monofilament fishing line. At that time, all nylon came from DuPont. After receiving a license from DuPont, Berk returned to Spirit Lake to begin work developing equipment to produce nylon. The initial extrusion equipment consisted of reclaimed washing machine wringers, bicycle wheels, and other junkyard materials.
Soon Berkley was marketing private brand mono, and Spirit Lake experimentation soon resulted in the the company’s breakthrough innovation – Trilene. Berkley introduced Trilene in 1959- about the same time DuPont introduced Stren. To introduce the new line, Berk sent out thousands of sample spools to tackle shop owners, asking them to let their best fisherman try it on a spinning reel. Fishermen loved the line leading to the successful launch of Berkley Trilene.
The next four decades were a time of great growth for the company. In the 1960’s, Berkley entered the rod business, which lead to
international expansion in the 70’s. Berkley entered the soft plastic market in the 80’s. Throughout the 90’s and up to today, Spirit Lake R&D has taken itself to the forefront of fishing technology as Berkley committed significant resources to research and development. From this investment in technology has come innovations such as PowerBait, FireLine, and more recently Gulp! and Gulp! Alive.
A lot of fishermen don’t realize that Berkley Bedell is a former U.S. Congressman. He first ran for Congress in 1972, but was defeated by incumbent Wiley Mayne who he would turn around and beat in ’74. He was known for his populist style. He would hold town halls and let constituents vote on motions to decide what he would do in Congress on their behalf. He served in congress until 1986. He was followed by Fred “Gopher” Grandy of “Love Boat” fame. Bedell, 97, still resides in Spirit Lake.