The unmistakable logo that is Airfix will instantly conjure up many very happy memories for some. Fathers, sons and grandfathers all over the U.K. ( and probably further a field). Tables full of newspaper, Radio 4 or the test match cricket on in the background – pouring over the assembly instructions whilst over enthusiastic offspring looked on, frantically chiselling the super-glue off fingers and surfaces before mother got home.
Airfix was founded in 1939 by Hungarian refugee Nicholas Kove – who originally set out to make rubber inflatable toys. The name ‘Airfix’ was very cleverly selected so as the company would come up first in directory searches and had little to do with the products they made at the time. The company introduced injection moulding in 1947 initially to make pocket combs. They were asked to make a scaled replica promotional model of a Ferguson Brown TE20 tractor moulded in cellulose acetate (the plastic often used, at the time, in glasses frames and photographic film) this to be distributed and hand assembled by the Ferguson sales reps.
The tractor went on to be sold by Woolworth retail stores as a kit and in 1954 a Woolworth’s buyer J Russon suggested that Airfix produce a model of “The Golden Hind”. It was made and put in a plastic bag with headed paper with assembly instructions on the reverse and sold for two shillings.
This became an instant hit and galvanised Airfix into producing new designs with the first Aircraft kit in 1953 of the super-marine Spitfire and then the MK IX Spitfire in 1955 which was a 1/72 scale , it was thought that the new models would bomb in popularity but history has proved otherwise.
In the 1960s & 70s the interest in the hobby grew exponentially, as did the range of models with vintage motorcycles, cars, space rockets, jets, trains and famous ships. Airfix produced a monthly modelling magazine full of their latest products from 1960 until 1993. In 1963 Airfix tried to compete with Scalextric to produce raceable models but this was shelved.
The 1970s are considered Airfix’s heyday. They produced much larger scale models and ramped up production to 17 different new models a year. At its peak 20m kits were distributed worldwide and Airfix had 75% of the modelling business in the UK. During this era Airfix acquired Meccano and Dinky Toys to become the UK’s largest toy company.
The 1980s saw a decline in sales, work place streamlining was met by industrial action, and with a strong £ sales to foreign markets collapsed. Eventually, Airfix filed for bankruptcy in 1981 and was bought by General Mills and then again by a Borden Group/Humbrol in 1986 itself entering liquidation in 2006 when Hornby, the British company that owned of Scalextric, acquired Airfix.
Airfix will always have a place in many peoples heart , the satisfaction of seeing all of its neatly arranged components come together to form such a splendid looking model became an addiction to some with many fine hours spent glueing , painting and, of course, saving up for that one model that would complete your set!
If you’ve enjoyed Dominic’s piece please see Concorde by Dominic Baker
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Images courtesy of Airfix