Historical Markers
Samuel Phillippe Historical Marker
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Samuel Phillippe

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
South Third Street just North of Pine Street, Easton

Dedication Date:
July 20, 1953

Behind the Marker

"Anglers are apt to become fastidious as to the spring and taper of their rods, especially those used in fly-fishing."
                              Thad Norris, The American Angler's Book

Early Pennsylvania settlers were delighted with the fish they found in Pennsylvania's waters. William Penn himself had boasted of the size and variety of the "excellent fish" of his New World property. By the mid-eighteenth century, Philadelphia merchants were importing the latest English rods, hooks and fishing tackle. The city boasted four fishing clubs, including the Schuylkill Fishing Company, which remains the oldest fishing club in the Western Hemisphere. 
Fishermen stand in the water while fishing.
Trout fishing in the Yellow Breeches, Boiling Springs, PA. circa 1960.

Detail showing the name of Samuel C. Phillippe.
Detail of bamboo fishing rod made by Solon C. Phillippe.
In the 1830s, an epidemic of "trout mania" spread across the state. In Pittsburgh, new "brothers of the angle" formed the city's first fishing club. Back in Philadelphia, where they had already fished out the local streams, men sought out new waters in which to engage in the "calmer of unquiet thoughts." Located at the juncture of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, Easton lay along the routes that the sportsmen of Philadelphia traveled to the great fishing streams of the Poconos. It was there that Sam Phillippe, a local gunsmith and prize-winning violinmaker, caught the bug.

For generations, Americans had fished with a simple reed pole with string and hook tied on the end. In this great age of patriotic fervor and invention, however, American anglers put their minds to developing better ways to catch fish. There was much discussion and disagreement about the best length and weight of rods, the use of rings and metal tips and, of course, the fine art of the fly; that "harmonious blending of colors or attractive hues as well as the neat and graceful tying of a fly, that makes it killing."

Carving detail
Carving detail of Solon C. Phillippe's bamboo fishing rod.
In the 1840s, Phillippe began to make special hooks, but soon turned his attention to the rod. At the time, the best rods came from England. These combined a wood handle and bamboo tips, whose lightness and flexibility gave a better cast than the one-piece wood or bamboo poles of old. But Phillippe still found them too heavy, so he began to tinker. English rods weighed about an ounce a foot. Phillippe made an all-bamboo eleven-foot rod in three sections that weighed only eight ounces, but it still didn't cast true. So he added a fourth section, made of cane.

Where the British made their rods by slicing, fitting and then gluing together three strips of bamboo, Phillippe tried three, then four and finally six to produce an American rod that was lighter and more flexible – better than anything made in England. Another triumph of American ingenuity! "Old Sam Phillippe knew just what a trout fly rod should be in its action," fishing historian James Henshall would write in his Book of the Black Bass, "both in casting a fly and in playing a trout; and it is on these qualities of a rod that its merits should be judged, rather than the style or its constructions or fine appearance."
Detail of the reel.
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Close up of the fishing reel made by Solon C. Phillippe, circa 1870.

About the same time that Phillippe was working on his rods, Thaddeus Norris, a tackle shop owner in Philadelphia, widely hailed as America's greatest angler, was looking for a good place to locate a trout hatchery. The two met, and on streams that flowed into the Delaware River above the Delaware Water Gap, practiced their art. In 1865, Norris published The American Angler's Book: Embracing the Natural History of Sporting Fishing, and the Art of Taking Them, a detailed and amusing book on fly and bait fishing that was also the first comprehensive book on angling in America.

As interest in fly fishing increased, every American angler wanted a split-cane bamboo rod, a rod based on Sam Phillippe's design. Pennsylvania's trout and bass streams became so famous that thousands of anglers visited them from other states each year. By the late 1800s, nearly half the revenue in some Pennsylvania counties was derived directly or indirectly from its trout and bass anglers.

By 1870, however, the state's game fishing industry was also rapidly collapsing. Canals and dams diverted water, and the clearcutting of forests eliminated the tree cover that had kept streams cool and held back the soils that now eroded into streams and smothered their bottoms. Acid runoff from coal mines, oil spills and other pollutants killed the fish and plant life in hundreds of miles of streams and left hundreds more with scarcely any fish.

In the 1870s, the Pennsylvania Fish Commission began to restock streams and introduce new species, including striped bass, walleye, carp, black bass, yellow perch and rainbow trout. By 2001, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission estimated that recreational fishing supported 17,000 jobs, brought $1.35 billion a year to the state's economy and contributed more than $50 million to the state's treasury.
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