A collection of inventors from the Wells area

Published 8:35 am Friday, July 2, 2010

One of the many old newspaper articles I’ve received from local historical researcher Kevin Savick is about several men from Wells and nearby Minnesota Lake who were inventors.

The first person featured in this 1956 Tribune article was Harlan Halverson. He was a carpenter, building contractor and fisherman. Harlan liked to tinker with various items. As a result, he tried to modify a bobby pin for use as a spring wire for a fishing line sinker. What eventually evolved was a device that worked, was worth a legal patent, and became the basis for a new business.

Also involved in this new venture were John Kensok of Minnesota Lake, Burdette Kelley of Wells and Charles Brecht of Minnesota Lake. They formed the Harly Company and called their new product the Harly Self Hook Setter. Most of the manufacturing was done at Minnesota Lake and final processing took place in Wells. According to the Tribune article, production was about 3,000 units a day.

Email newsletter signup

The setter was soon being sold in 32 states and promoted at sportsmen’s shows all over the nation.

Right at this point I’d like to make a statement and ask several questions. First, I’m not a fisherman at all so I’m just passing along to the readers what was reported in the article. This will be emphasized with the next Wells inventor to be featured in this column. Second, what ever happened to the Harly Self Hook Setter? And, third, are there any reminders left of this device or the Harly Company?

In July 1956, Frank and Anna Rentz of Wells obtained a patent on a device called an artificial bubble which could act as a fishing lure. The Rentz version used crystal beads for weights. They were in the process at that time to have this new creation manufactured locally.

The article added that Rentz already had patents on “a slot machine, a heater for car engines, three different air conditioners, driving glasses, a mechanical toy and others.”

Frank’s father, George Rentz, was also an inventor. The Tribune article, dated Sept. 23, 1956, said the father “also invented many items. He had patents on a bicycle which won first prize at the Chicago fair; a gas lamp, which he had manufactured by the American Gas Company at Albert Lea; the first self-filling fountain pen, sold at his jewelry store in Wells. He also had radio and phonograph inventions patented and sold patented hair tonic, liniment and stomach tablets.”

One could wonder if the last three items were actually sold in the Rentz Jewelry Store.

Again, are there any reminders now left, like the bubble fishing lure, to serve as historical legacies of the Rentz family?

Still another Wells inventor featured in this article was Ernest S. Weite who was in the implement business at Wells for 27 years. He had a potato planter patented. This creation was manufactured in Wells and Weite sold and rented this device. The article added: “He invented a grass clipper so he could trim the grass without stooping, and also a gadget to pick up black walnuts in his yard without much effort. Like all other inventors, he saw some of his ideas stolen and patented by others.”

There’s some unhappy reality with that last sentence.

Now, to close off this column, here’s a question from a local reader. He has a copy of the last will of William A. Morin. In this will Morin set up a $10,000 fund in 1912 to provide free Christmas dinners for deserving people in Albert Lea and Alden to be funded by the fund’s yearly interest. The key word for this fund was perpetually, which mean forever. The question this reader has is based on what’s happened to this fund during the past 98 years.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.