You can still find many American made penns. Penn ceased production on the ss models last year. Unfortunately the ss series has been retired although they still fix them Retired Penn Reels
The plant in Hegins pa. closed last year and the work was shipped overseas.
The Philadelphia plant remains in operation and production is still strong.
Penn Reels slide show
Check out this weeks story and the slide show in the Philly paper
A Fishin' Mission
Despite recent layoffs, reel manufacturer Penn Fishing Tackle plans to stay in Phila.
By Reid Kanaley
Inquirer Staff Writer
Penn Reel's International V reel comes in a number of sizes. The Philadelphia firm supplied several of its most famous model, the Senator, for the original "Jaws" movie. Some reels sell for $50 and some for up to $1,200. Penn's plant on Hunting Park Avenue employs 270. The company dates to 1932.
"Gone fishin' " could be the epitaph for Philadelphia manufacturing's glory days, but Penn Fishing Tackle is still here making the reels.
The company on Hunting Park Avenue in the city's Nicetown-Tioga section has made fishing gear for 74 years and sells 1.2 million reels a year.
And, though it laid off 86 workers and closed a plant that employed them in Schuylkill County last year, chief executive officer David H. Martin said his Penn Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Co., also known as Penn Reel, has a "goal and a mission" of keeping production of its high-end reels in Philadelphia.
The private company, which has annual revenue of about $50 million and employs 270, is part of a fishing-tackle industry that had U.S. sales of $2.1 billion last year.
Martin, Penn's 34-year-old CEO, began working at Penn during summers as a teenager. His father, Art, who had started working there as a toolmaker in the 1950s, eventually retired as head of manufacturing.
"The place is home to me, like an old shoe," David Martin said during a tour.
In his office, fishing poles stood stacked in bunches like a harvest of cornstalks.
While some Penn reels sell for about $50, the poles in Martin's office were mounted with big-game bronzed bobbins the size of coffee cans - models that sell for up to $1,200 and sound like buzz saws when a big fish is running out the line.
Walls inside the Penn Reel plant are decorated with hundreds of mounted fish - including the 613-pound bluefin tuna caught by one of the company's former presidents, Martha Henze, in the 1950s.
Penn's most famous model, the Senator, its side etched with an image of a fishing boat and a leaping marlin, has remained in production since 1936. The company supplied several Senators for the filming of the original Jaws movie.
Employees' average tenure at Penn is 22 years, Martin said.
Gerard Kimer, 68, is a 50-year veteran who works in the reel repair shop. "They all come to me," Kimer said. "If we made a reel, we can fix it."
Some letters that arrive with broken reels say the fishing gear was handed down from an earlier generation, Kimer said.
Reels that arrive completely disassembled usually come with letters blaming a child. "They've always got a 10-year-old son who took it apart," Kimer said.
He considers those fish stories.
Martin said Penn Reel competes head-to-head with companies such as Shakespeare Fishing Tackle, of Columbia, S.C., and against industry heavyweights that include Japan's Shimano Inc. and W.C. Bradley Co. of Columbus, Ga.
Bradley owns the Lews, Rhino, Martin, Fin-Nor, Van Staal, and Quantum brands as well as the familiar budget-rack name, Zebco, as seen on TV.
Otto Henze, a German immigrant to Philadelphia, started Penn Reel in 1932. His widow, Martha, ran the company from the time of Otto's death in 1939 until 1969.
Their son, Herbert, then served as president until the family sold the company in 2003 to two fishing-tackle wholesalers: Master Fishing Tackle Corp. of Carson, Calif., and Sea Striker Inc. of Morehead City, N.C., Martin said.
Pricing pressure on Penn's low-end spinning reels led to shutting the plant in Hegins, Schuylkill County, Martin said, and those reels are now made in China.
Still, he said, eight of 11 new reel models that Penn is introducing this year are being made in Philadelphia. "It is our goal and mission to keep manufacturing here in the U.S. and in Philadelphia," he said.
The new models center on recent patents that Penn won for redesigned shifting and braking mechanisms in its reels.
Fishing reels, which can have up to 90 internal parts, are developed in-house by a team of mechanical engineers and machinists on the third floor of the factory. A "stereo lithographer" that resembles a large microwave oven makes plastic models of the parts from computerized blueprints. Then, six "old-school" tool-and-die-makers build the prototypes, and design and build the machine tools for mass production of parts, Martin said.
Prototypes are field-tested for up to six months by charter boat fishermen and guides from Egg Harbor, N.J., to Botany Bay, Australia, he said.
The American-made models of Penn reels are hand-built in the Hunting Park Avenue plant, where parts are machined from forged aluminum at rows of computerized equipment. Intricate three-inch geared spindles are cut from stainless steel on 18-foot lathes.
In May, a Penn reel figured in the epic catch of a record-breaking 1,200-pound hammerhead shark, nicknamed "Little Hitler," off Florida by fishing captain Bucky Dennis, according to the Tampa Tribune.
Martin, who earned an M.B.A. at St. Joseph's University and is also the company's chief financial officer, said work kept him too busy for much fishing, but he is as good as any at stories about the one that got away.
He said he was in Florida waters, a few weeks before Dennis' catch, with a fishing team that latched onto a giant hammerhead, but the shark escaped.
Martin claimed it was Little Hitler. "That was our fish," he said.
The reels still in production are listed on their web site. www.pennreels.com
Many ss reels can still be found in online store and tackle shop inventory and good bargains can be found on ebay.
The sad part is that they lost manufacturing jobs overseas to gadget type reel competition. Everybody likes bells and whistles.
Penn just made reels that last.