Balsa Wood Airplanes
Sometimes the most inexpensive of toys can offer the most enjoyment. Take balsa wood airplanes for example. Back in the day, these packaged gliders cost only a few cents, could be assembled in mere minutes, and were available at just about any store that sold toys. Millions were sold in the 70s, providing countless kids with hours of entertainment.
Balsa wood airplanes (like the one shown in the picture) were manufactured by the Guillow Gliders company, who first started making the lightweight aircraft kits in 1926. The namesake of the company was Paul K Guillow, a WWI naval aviator with a passion for making models of the aircraft he flew in the war.
The company faced tough times in the 40s, as balsa wood was in demand for the (new) war effort. Once those hostilities were over, however, it was back to business as usual and the popularity of these toys soared through the decades that followed.
For a mere nickel, maybe a quarter, you received a plastic package containing all the wooden parts to construct your airplane. More sophisticated models included plastic accessories such as landing gear wheels and/or a rubber band-powered propeller.
Simply slide the parts together (the package told you how) and you were ready to take to the skies. No decorating was necessary as the balsa wood already had all the pre-printed markings one would expect on an aircraft.
Numerous models were introduced over the years. The most popular was the simple “Jetfire” model, which contained only a few parts and could be assembled in seconds. The “Sky Streak” was more advanced, complete with landing wheels and propeller. The “Flying Clown” was the most basic of planes, offering little in the way of markings, but you could do some nifty looping tricks with it.
The best part about balsa wood airplanes is that they could take a decent amount of abuse, as long as you didn’t crack of a wing by flying it into a tree or brick wall. Otherwise, they were quite durable, certainly more so than any plastic model plane you might spend hours gluing together.
Looking back, they were the epitome of simplicity, and at such a low price, it wasn’t all that hard to talk a parent into making a purchase, so countless kids got to play with these memorable toys, not only in the 70s, but for nearly a century. And yes, they are still made today. You just have to look a little harder for them.
If you hold fond memories of playing with balsa wood airplanes back in the day, I hope you’ll take a moment to share your recollections in our comments section below.
We’re these balsa airplanes ever made in Bend,Oregon?
I have won still in package from 1960s. Played with them a lot in the 60s
Great article, but growing up in Ohio in the 70’s was great too! I bought a Guillows glider at Ben Franklin’s last week and it cost $2.39. I certainly appreciate what our parents did to entertain us at a minimal (to us kids) cost. Happy memories of simpler times.
Had many of these as a kid. Remember having one with the landing gear. If memory serves, the wheels were made of red plastic mounted on thin wire in a V shape which somehow attached to the bottom of the fuselage. Great fun in my backyard…the sky was the limit! Does anyone remember Tonka trucks?
My brother and I played with them growing up. We could sit on the couch and throw it to the left (with a little wrist pop) and it would fly around the living room and make a complete circle coming back to us. Lots of fun with those and the rubber band models, too! I’m getting them for grandkids for Christmas stocking stuffers!