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The Orvis Company
FounderCharles F. Orvis
HeadquartersSunderland, Vermont
Number of locations
88 retail stores, 11 outlet stores
Key people
CEO: Leigh H 'Perk' Perkins
ProductsClothing, gift/home, fly fishing, dogs, luggage and outdoor equipment

Orvis is an American family-owned retail and mail-order business specializing in fly fishing, hunting and sporting goods. Founded in Manchester, Vermont, in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis to sell fishing tackle, it is the oldest mail-order retailer in the United States.

Orvis operates 70 retail stores and 10 outlet/warehouse locations in the U.S. and 18 retail stores and one outlet store in the U.K. Owned by the Perkins family since 1965, the company has changed hands twice and has had five CEOs in its history.


Charles F. Orvis opened a tackle shop in Manchester, Vermont, in 1856. His 1874 fly reel was described by reel historian Jim Brown as the "benchmark of American reel design," the first fully modern fly reel.[1][2]

Charles's daughter, Mary Orvis Marbury, took charge of the Orvis fly department in the 1870s. In 1892, she published an encyclopedic reference book on fly patterns Favorite Flies and Their Histories.[2][3]

Following Charles's death in 1915, sons Albert and Robert managed the company until the 1930s, when it essentially collapsed during the Depression. Investors, led by Philadelphia businessman-sportsman Dudley Corkran, purchased Orvis in 1939 for US$4,500, and quickly revitalized the business.[2] Corkran hired master bamboo rodbuilder Wes Jordan, who by the late 1940s had developed a Bakelite impregnation process that made Orvis bamboo rods uniquely impervious to weather, rot, and other perennial perils.[4]

In 1965, Corkran sold the firm to Leigh H. Perkins for $400,000. Perkins recognized the opportunity to make Orvis synonymous not only with fly fishing but with an entire way of life, and greatly enlarged the product line into gifts and clothing. Described by contemporaries as a genius at mail order, Perkins pioneered the trading of customer mailing lists among his chief competitors, including L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer and Norm Thompson.[2][5]

Under Perkins and Jordan's successor as chief rod builder, Howard Steere, Orvis became the world's largest manufacturer of high-quality fly rods and reels.[citation needed] In 1989, Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, named the Orvis fly rod one of the five best products made in the United States in the 1980s.[6] Historian Kenneth Cameron has written that Perkins' accomplishment was to "define the look of contemporary fly fishing and the entire social universe in which it fits, no small achievement."[7]

Since Perkins' retirement in 1992, under the leadership of Perkins' sons, CEO Leigh ("Perk") Perkins, Jr., and Executive Vice Chairman Dave Perkins, Orvis has more fully formalized- and broadened its corporate vision. Whilst Orvis has thrived and revenue has more than tripled under this second generation of Perkins leadership, a long-simmering corporate identity crisis had to be addressed: the company's growth had strained Orvis's sense of direction - e.g. between 1982 and 2000, Orvis purchased six other firms, most of whose own identities did not mesh well with Orvis and thus put the clarity of the brand at risk.[2][8]

An Orvis Green Highlander salmon fly.

After World War II, as fiberglass claimed the fishing rod market, Orvis competed with bamboo rod builders, such as Payne, Gillum, and Garrison, while its fiberglass and graphite rods competed with Shakespeare, Fenwick, and other emerging post-bamboo-era firms.[9]

Conservation programs[edit]

Orvis's conservation activism began with Charles Orvis's work in fisheries conservation and management in the late 19th century and has continued since. In 1994, Leigh Perkins, Orvis CEO from 1965 to 1992, received the Chevron Corporation's Chevron Conservation Award for lifetime achievements in conservation.[5]


  1. ^ Brown, Jim. A Treasury of Reels: The Fishing Reel Collection of The American Museum of Fly Fishing. Manchester, Vermont: The American Museum of Fly Fishing, 1990.
  2. ^ a b c d e Schullery, Paul. The Orvis Story: 150 Years of an American Sporting Tradition. Manchester, Vermont, The Orvis Company, Inc., 2006.
  3. ^ Marbury, Mary Orvis. Favorite Flies and Their Histories. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1892.
  4. ^ Spurr, Dick, and Gloria Jordan. Wes Jordan: Profile of a Rodmaker. Grand Junction, Colorado: Centennial Publications, 1992.
  5. ^ a b Perkins, Leigh, with Geoffrey Norman. A Sportsman's Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport. Boston, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
  6. ^ USA Today. "The 80's, What Made The List." November 28, 1989, 6A
  7. ^ Cameron, Kenneth. Begetter. Waterlog, August–September, 2001, 25.
  8. ^ Marcel, Joyce, "Leigh H. 'Perk' Perkins, Jr. and the Orvis Company." Vermont Business Magazine, January, 2005, 1-14.
  9. ^ Schullery, Paul. American Fly Fishing: A History. New York: The Lyons Press, 1987.