The first somewhat successful fishing rods made of fiberglass came about the mid 1940’s & were developed by two men named Gayle & McGuire in Missouri. Their way of making the rods was to form resin-saturated fiberglass yarn into a skinny square rod. That rod was then cut to length & ground down to the desired taper. Both the Phantom & Shakespeare companies were the first to offer these rods. However, these rods never became very popular because they were heavy & not pleasant to cast.
Dr. Arthur Howland, in 1946, copied Hewitt’s ideas using a balsa wood core, phenolic resins, & new (& improved) fiberglass fibers. Howland’s experiments, with the then newer materials, proved very successful & soon Shakespeare licensed the method. They made fly rods this way until the early 1950’s. By then Shakespeare had also developed another less expensive method using a removable & reusable steel mandrel, as well as fully automated machinery. This is very similar to the methods employed by most large tackle manufacturers today.
Fiberglass rods continued to develop as also around this time Dr. Glenn Havens, working with the aircraft manufacturer Convair Company, developed a process using a resin-saturated fiberglass cloth that was tightly wrapped over a removable steel mandrel. This is the method that has become the standard way of making rods across the industry.
Throughout the late 40’s & early 50’s the main focus of most rod companies was to keep manufacturing costs low. As a result, many fiberglass production rods from this time are not the best ever made. Fortunately, innovative folks in the years that followed helped to create & design some wonderful rods. People like Russ Peak, Gary Loomis, Jon Tarantino, & others enabled glass rods to reach their full potential.
Early fiberglass rods had a tendency to go soft with age as the resins weakened with use & continued exposure to moisture affected them. Eventually epoxy resins would become available as a rod coating, making the rods very waterproof. Also, the development of “S-glass”, a fiber that’s stiffer than the previously available “E-glass”, added to the range of actions for different rods in the 1970’s. Some anglers continue to debate the characteristics (& their preferences) of these two types of fiberglass rods.
The development of the fiberglass rod was important, as it paved the way for other synthetic materials like graphite & boron to be used in fly rod construction. It was also the first man-made material used to make high performance fly rods.