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The original floating Rapala remains a favorite among angling enthusiasts. Today the company produces about 20 million lures annually and still hand-tests every lure before it's packaged. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Rapala name, lures, are standards here

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If you own a tackle box, you probably have at least one Rapala lure in a tray.

Though many anglers recognize the original floating Rapala as a handcrafted item from Finnish designer Lauri Rapala, many don't realize the events that brought this lure into the U.S.

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It all started when a man named Ron Weber, who was once a regional sales manager for Pflueger Fishing Tackle, left his position in the late 1950s and started R.W. Weber sales.

That same year, on a fishing trip north of Duluth, Weber, who was a highly skilled and dually successful angler, found himself out-fished by a friend who was using "some Finlander plug."

"I had been fishing since I was five-years-old and I thought I was a pretty good fisherman," reflects Weber. "It wasn't every day that I got out-fished, but when I saw a friend catching fish after fish, I became a believer on the spot. There was something different about this wobbler. It was a Rapala."

Weber purchased two of the lures from a Finnish bait shop owner on the way home.

Weber approached good friend and regular customer Ray Ostrum, who owned a tackle shop in Minneapolis, telling him about the lure that caught so many fish. Ostrum tried the lure and was immediately convinced.

The two friends sent a letter to Lauri Rapala in Finland on Sept. 23, 1959, stating in part, "We are interested in importing for the purpose of sales and distribution of these and any other lures which you may manufacture."

Written in English, the Finnish speaking Rapala family had to travel several miles to reach another village, where a school teacher translated the contents.

On Feb. 10, 1960, Weber and Ostrum placed their first order for Rapalas, totaling 1,000 lures. One year later they ordered 2,400. Lauri Rapala had now shipped 3,400 lures to Weber and Ostrum for distribution.

During the period between 1960-1961, that number multiplied to 31,135 lures. In 1962 Weber and Ostrum changed the name of their new company to Nordic Enterprises Inc. However, the Rapala name remained registered.

Per a contract signed between Nordic Enterprises and Lauri Rapala and Sons, Weber and Ostrum agreed to buy as many lures as Rapala could produce - up to 300,000 lures against their written orders - July 1962 and August 1963.

In August of 1962 the Lauri Rapala story appeared in Life magazine, an issue featuring Marilyn Monroe's life following her death. Public demand for Rapala lures skyrocketed and sacks of letters arrived for Weber and Ostrum each day.

"In no time at all we had orders for about three million pieces," said Weber.

The Rapala family had to expand their manufacturing facility. Today the company has factories in Finland, France, Ireland, Estonia and China, building around 20 million lures a year.

And since 1959, Rapala has distributed their lures to only one company in the USA; the company Ron Weber and Ray Ostrum created and now called Normark-Rapala Ltd.­­ - all because of a fishing trip.

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