Lauri Rapala was born in central Finland, a flat land of evergreen forests peppered with hundreds of lakes. Not too much further north, along the Arctic Circle in the area called Lapland, reindeer roam in large herds. The lakes here are very cold, like the aquavit that the Finns drink year round and the gamefish - pike, perch, trout and whitefish - grow very slowly.
At the age of seven, Lauri and his mother Mari settled in the parish of Asikkala, which is located about 60 miles from Helsinki. In writing the extract for the Sysma parish register, the clergyman forgot Mari's surname, Saarinen, and instead wrote the name of the village from which Mari and Lauri had moved Rapala. In Finnish, the word "Rapala" means "mud."
Mari took a job as a maid and netminder in the household of Santeri Tommola in the Asikkala village of Sarkijarvi. As for Lauri, as soon as he was able, he was put to work like most Finnish children of that time. There were no schools in Sarkijarvi and no other means of financial support. There was only long, hard, back-breaking manual labor.
In his early twenties, Lauri met Elma Leppanen, who also served as a maid in the Tommola household. In 1928, the couple married and moved to the nearby village of Riihilahti to live in her parents' house, where they lived until 1933.
The early years of their marriage were dominated with struggle as a result of Europe's economic downturn. Times were tough and became even more challenging as the impact of the Great Depression in the United States swept throughout Europe.
In those years of shortage, Lauri worked during the winter as a lumberjack; in the summer, he worked as a farmer's hand or commercial fisherman. When fishing, Lauri netted whitefish and set long lines for pike and perch, which he sold at the nearby market. Lauri also would troll a baited hook for trout, because three trout, weighing more than eight pounds, could earn an equivalent of two weeks' pay in a nearby factory.
His work as a fisherman was hard and lonely. It constantly tested the young man. But at least Lauri was a "free man," as he would later tell his sons.
"Our father was a kind, humble man," says Risto, Lauri's second son. "He liked to spend time on the water. My best memories were those times when we fished. It was cold, and we would take a break, go to shore, start a fire to warm up and eat sandwiches prepared by our mother."
Lauri used a troutline with about a thousand hooks to catch northern pike and perch. He trailed the troutline behind his “soutuvene”, the traditional Finnish fishing boat. Lauri had no motor so he rowed about 30 miles every day, except in storms, of course, and he baited his own hooks with minnows from a nearby forest lake.
According to Risto, Lauri would fish for trout with a homemade fishing rod. When a trout hit, he would throw the rod overboard and row after it, allowing the fish to tire. That's how much a trout was worth.
Time on the water allowed Lauri to think much, as well as plenty of time to observe nature, particularly the behavior of fish. He would quietly row and sit over the clear water, watching schools of minnows swim along until - wham - in a heartbeat, one would be gone, the target of a large, hungry predator fish. After many years, Lauri observed that something caused one minnow out of an entire school to be singled out and attacked. That observation - a struggling, slightly off-center, wounded wobble - remained close to Lauri Rapala throughout his entire life.
"Our father really understood fishing," says Risto. "He recognized the relationship between bottom structure and where fish are located. He learned how fish fed, and how they moved from one location to another. And Lauri understood the effects of weather on fishing."
He thought a fishing lure might help him catch more fish, and in turn, earn more money. A well-made fishing lure also might eliminate the need to constantly bait lines. After all, minnows die, a fishing lure doesn't. So, Lauri whittled, shaved and carved. Eventually, a lure began to take shape.
Lauri worked hard but initially, his desire to capture that slightly wobbling action failed. Together, with his friend Akseli Soramaki and a local hermit, Pylvalainen, who lived on an island in the middle of Lake Päijänne, Lauri observed that his wooden lure did not have the same action as a live, wounded baitfish.
Lauri continued experimenting. He fiddled with hook assemblies and guttapercha sheets. Finally, using a shoemaker's knife, a file and sandpaper, he shaped his first successful lure from cork in 1936. Tinfoil from a neighbor's cheese packets and chocolate bars formed the lure's outer surface. Lauri melted unwanted photographic negatives on the lure to create a protective coating, since he was unable to obtain lacquer. This first lure still exists today - it's black on top, gold along its flanks, and white on the bottom - just like the minnows of Lake Päijänne.
When he completed it, Lauri trolled his first successful lure with a line tied to his thumb to prevent the lure's loss. It mimicked an injured minnow so well that trout and pike hungrily attacked it. As fish tales go, his sons Risto and Ensio, who were young children then, say Lauri sometimes caught 600 pounds of fish a day with his new lure.
In 1939, war broke out through Europe. Shortages of all types worsened and Lauri's growing family needed food. Fortunately, his little invention worked and he caught many fish. With his knowledge of nature, Lauri switched from cork to pine bark to create lures. Lauri obtained the bark from pine stumps and logging sites. Some owners were probably surprised when Lauri asked to buy their crooked pine trees, and even more so when he left the trees bare - the bark painstakingly removed.
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland, Lauri left his family to defend his homeland. When Nazi Germany declared war against the Soviet Union, the enemies switched, and the Finnish people soon found themselves fighting the invading German Army.
Word of Lauri's lure spread during the war years. He frequently used the lure to catch fish for himself and his army friends. Legend has it, according to his grandson, Jarmo Rapala, chief executive officer of the Rapala, that Lauri's lure received a "bang" of promotion one day when he challenged his Army friends to a fishing contest. During those times, dynamite was sometimes used to obtain fish. Lauri said his lure could do better, and after several hours of fishing, Lauri caught 78 fish, far exceeding what his friends "caught" with dynamite. After six years in the Finnish Army, Lauri returned to his family.
Demand for Lauri's lure increased after the war, particularly among summer vacationers to Lake Päijänne. Lauri was surprised that anyone would buy his lure. Yet the lure's reputation grew as word of Lauri's abundant catches spread throughout the region.
By 1948, Risto, Ensio, Esko and Kauko, Lauri's four sons, were emerging as young men. Lauri taught them craft of making the Rapala fishing lure, and they all caught on quickly. Ensio, in particular, did so well that one of the lures he carved won a national craftsmen's award.
For her part, Elma designed and wrote promotional copy for the lure boxes. Because she could read, write and understood mathematics, Elma handled the bookkeeping, and made sure the family was paid for their hard work.
"Lure making was good for our family," says Risto. "In addition to giving us work, it helped to keep our family together and taught us many life lessons, especially the value of honesty and hard work."
The enterprising business also had a big impact on the village.
"At first, I don't think Lauri received much respect," Ensio says. "After all, who knew what would become of this business? It wasn't a respectable profession, like a lumberjack. Some even said he was lazy. But our father didn't listen to the criticism, or become angry. He just went about his business."
Machinery improved the quality of the lures, and enhanced production efficiency. The first sign of mechanization was the introduction of an old spinning wheel with a strip of sandpaper around it. The spinning wheel was used to smooth and polish the lures. Ensio developed a special circular saw and a band saw to create identical lure blanks.
"We each had our favorite part in making the lures," says Risto. "Ensio liked painting the eyes, I liked to glue the celluloid on the surface, and our father liked carving them. We all took great pride in our work."
"It was very natural how we split the work," adds Ensio. "We each had our talents, and we complemented each other well. Later, when it came to running the business, we did the same thing. I enjoyed the bookkeeping, accounting and taking orders, while Risto enjoyed managing the plant."
As mechanization gradually crept into the lure-making process, Lauri maintained one rule above all others - accuracy.
"The key to our success is accuracy," says Risto. "We make sure every lure remains true to a pattern. We make sure our measurements are exact, because any inaccuracies, even just a little, can strongly affect the wobble action of the lures."
To make sure the lures were made just right, Lauri insisted on tank testing for every Rapala lure - to ensure that each one swam true to the unique "wounded-fish action." No exceptions. Lauri viewed testing as his final stamp of approval. In the winter, the lures were tested in an indoor shed belonging to a timber floating company; in the summer, Lauri and his sons tested the lures along the shores of Lake Päijänne, in the Kalkkinen Rapids.
For a number of years, the lures were simply referred to as "wobblers," and were sold in hand-made boxes by Elma. As the Rapala family started selling more lures, they needed more boxes, which required formal printing and assembly.
Ironically, the clergyman who gave Lauri Rapala his name was the house manager of the printing company and suggested that the most appropriate name on the box would be Rapala. At the time, the enterprising family made about 1,000 lures a year.
Now Rapala firm produces millions of lures every year in its two firms in Finland and in Ireland.
Rapala has a lure for every predator fish existing on the hearth; its lures go from 3 centimeters used for small crappie, trout and perch to 26 centimeters used in trolling to target hundred pounds tunas and other offshore fishes.
According with IGFA, keeper of the records, more all-tackle world record fish have been caught by anglers using Rapala lures than any other artificial lure in the world. Rapalas currently account for more than 200 world record fish, including over 30 all-tackle. And how about the universal appeal aspect? According to documentation, Rapala lures have broken world records on every continent, other than Antartica, where few angles spend they holiday time

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