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Model Airplanes: Humble Beginnings to Great Popularity

June 24, 2016

Post by Blair Young

At our June 27th auction we have a case full of mostly model airplanes (a few model cars too). The makers of the models we have include Monogram, Airfix, Hasegawa, Revell, Testors, Lindberg & Glencoe. Knowing nothing about building models, I thought I’d do a little research about the history of some of these companies.


Let’s start with Testors. The main focus was on paints and adhesives. A young Swedish immigrant named Nils Testors bought the assets of a small company which was producing an adhesive called Karlson’s Klister. Eventually difficult times befell the company and Nils took over control. They reformulated and renamed the adhesive to Crystal Clear Household Cement, to better market it as a versatile glue. By the 1930s their adhesives were being used to build models. In 1940 Testors entered the model industry by becoming a founding member of The Hobby Industry of America. During World War II, wartime production consumed the materials Testors needed to manufacture their products, so emphasis shifted to marketing scale model airplanes made of balsa wood. These models became very popular and Testors continues to create models as well as paints & adhesives hobbyists need to assemble their creations.

Not long after Testors’ start, a Hungarian refugee across the pond founded Airfix in 1939. Nicholas Kove was a manufacturer of rubber inflated toys – hence the name Airfix. Kove became involved in producing models when Harry Ferguson (the tractor manufacturer) needed a cheap model for his sales team to use as a promotional tool. The best way to go about this was to make small parts and then have skilled workers assemble the pieces. The models became popular and Ferguson allowed Airfix to create toy tractors. It was cheaper to sell the toys as kits, which included assembly instructions. Thus Airfix became a model manufacturer.

I found the factor that two individuals, each new in his respective country, creating these businesses, very interesting. While it certainly wasn’t an overall trend among all these model manufacturers, I find it an important reminder of positive contributions immigrants make to an economy.



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