Mitchell Prehistory

How the never ending Mitchell history began...

If there is one brand that is known by fishermen and collectors all over the world it is certainly Mitchell. But how, where and when did things get started?

Well, it all started not in France, but in the Haute-Savoie (High-Savoy), then part of the former kingdom of Sardinia (now Italy). The small town of Cluses, on the banks of the river Arve, was famous for its highly experienced gear-makers. Let us not forget the Swiss border and the city of Geneva are just at a stone’s-throw away. Many of the parts used in "genuine" Swiss watches, were made elsewhere, even in the region which later became a "département" of France.

It was also in another part of the kingdom of Sardinia, in Val-de-Mosso in the province of Navarro, that Louis Carpano was born in 1832. In 1851, he entered the Clockmakers School in Cluses. At the age of 19, he became very familiar to gearing systems. Gears, were used not only in watches, but also in the engines of the first factories in these early years of the expanding industrial revolution.

Portrait of Louis Carpano

Louis Carpano


After leaving school, Louis Carpano went to work in France and Switzerland. His first invention dates from 1860 and was an improved milling-machine for the carving of gears. In 1860, Savoy was annexed by France but Louis preferred to keep his Italian nationality. His craftsmanship was soon noticed when he came back to Cluses in 1868. A M. Jacottet offered him a partnership, and together they founded a company to produce and sell watch-gears, milling-machines and watchmakers tools. At the death of Jacottet, Louis Carpano became the owner. The company prospered and by the end of the 19th century, in 1892, a hydroelectric power station was installed to provide the power necessary for the engines.

Image of the Jacottet Factory

The Jacottet Factory


Louis did not have children, but his nephew Constant entered the company in 1896 and was trained by his uncle for six years. Louis retired from business in 1902 after spending more than 40 years in industry and trade. Constant took over and Louis lived in Turin (Italy) until his death in 1919.

Constant Carpano had a daughter (married to a Charles Pons) and when Constant Carpano died in 1927, the son of Constant, Léon Carpano and his brother-in-law Charles Pons founded the Company "Carpano & Pons".

Portrait of Charles Pons and Léon Carpano

Charles Pons and Léon Carpano


We believe Charles Pons was the moving spirit in the company. In the mid-thirties, he created a research and study-bureau, and put Maurice Jacquemin in charge of it.

Now almost all elements necessary for the birth of a legend, were in place. Carpano & Pons were credited with patenting one of the first electric shavers called "Carpo", a ladies cigarette lighter called "Cop" in the shape of a lip-stick, taxi meters, electric power-meters, electric windshield wipers for automobiles and… an open face spinning-reel were designed prior to World War II. The first proto-type model of this reel was made in the latter part of the 1930s.

First, we have to provide some historical background on the origins of Carpano & Pons’ C.A.P. reel. During the mid-to-late 1930s "La Canne à Pêche" (1) and "Pecos" (2), two French tackle companies, contracted Carpano & Pons to refine their existing reel designs. During the years that followed, these reels were mechanically enhanced and manufactured by Carpano & Pons for these two companies. Both round-shaped reels were mainly made in sub-contract by Carpano and Pons.

Carpano and Pons now finally had the experience (by making reels for other companies), the skill (by making high-tech gears for decades) and the right man (Maurice Jacquemin) to develop and produce their own reel. Jacquemin wasn’t an angler at all: he was an engineer and a very good one too!

Portrait of Maurice Jacquemin

Maurice Jacquemin


Maurice Jacquemin had to cope with many requirements for the design of this reel. Mr. Pons, being an engineer himself, interfaced with Maurice on many of the design changes. To avoid line being captured between the underlying windings, turning speed of the rotor had to be different from the speed of the vertical movement of the spool. Therefore, extra gears were installed into an egg-shaped housing. The spool had a instant-release button on top, which allowed easy removal and replacement. A multi-stop anti-reverse device (a knurled button on the sideplate) was present on the very first model. The reel was fitted with a collapsible handle and the wooden handle knob was the same used on the first C.A.P. and Pecos models. The half bail arm-mechanism was the same as the one used on C.A.P. and Pecos models. Jacquemin had to use a half bail-arm: Hardy jealously kept their patent on the full bail arm until it expired in 1954. The finish was a very decent satin black (on a red minium priming-coat). An application for a first patent was deposited on July 28, 1948 and the patent was granted on May 24, 1950 under number 969.584.

Patent demand Aug. 3, 1948

Patent demand Aug. 3, 1948


In the early 1950s, Mitchell offered a manual pick-up for a very limited time (approximately 2 years) on the Model 300.

The true origin of the name "Mitchell" remains mysterious: legend tells it was the Americanised name of the deplored brother (Michel) of Charles Pons: America was very "à la mode" then! We believe another explanation for the origin of the brand name is possible. Although Carpano & Pons had the firm intention to name their reel "Michel" they found out that this name was already used and patented as a part of the name of that other great French tackle manufacturer Pezon&Michel. So, they didn't have a lot of choice: giving the reel an American sound was not only legal but also very commercial. This way they avoided a lot of discussion with their major competitor in France!

The most ever sold and... copied reel was born.

And here history begins!

(1) This reel was called after the tackle-shop "La Canne à Pêche" from Angers (France);

(2) The Parisian tackle shop "Au Pêcheur Ecossais" had his own reel-model too;

Recommended reading:

"Mitchell Story" published by France Régions;

"100 Ans d’Aventure Industrielle, d’Eau et d’Electricité" published by the Town Archives of Cluses;

All images on this page are from above-mentioned books.


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