Once the biggest toy company in the UK, Airfix is famous for creating plastic model kits of every vehicle imaginable – from planes and boats, to cars and trains. But the company’s success has been far from plain sailing. Here’s a brief history of Airfix…
1) Airfix originally made inflatable rubber toys
Nicholas Kove, a Hungarian Businessman, founded Airfix in 1939, and began manufacturing inflatable rubber toys. By the end of 1947, they had introduced injection molding, and produced pocket combs.
2) They branched out to help sell tractors
In 1949, Ferguson approached Airfix and commissioned them to create a promotional model of their TE20 tractor, which they could send out to their sales reps. To lower the production costs, the model was sold as a construction kit in Woolworths.
3) Woolworths ordered a ‘Golden Hind’ model
Five years later, Jim Russon, the buyer at Woolworths, suggested that Airfix create a model kit of the Golden Hind; a ship that circumnavigated the globe in the late 16th century. Woolworths wanted to retail the kit at two shillings, so to keep costs down, Airfix kept packaging to a minimum; a plastic bag with a paper header – the title of the kit on one side, and the assembly instructions on the other.
The kit was an enormous success, and so they want on to produce exciting new designs; bringing out a model of a Supermarine Spitfire.
4) The owner of the company was very hesistant to make models
Kove, was still at the helm of the company, really wasn’t convinced that the kits would sell, and he even went so far as to threaten the designers with the cost of the tooling.
5) Airfix started their own magazine
The amount of modelling hobbyists grew rapidly, resulting in the company releasing Airfix Magazine – a hobby publication, which was published monthly from 1960 until 1993.
6) Airfix made locomotive kits to compete with Hornby
In 1962, Airfix acquired the moulds of closing company Rosebud Kitmaster Ltd, and it set about producing a line of Kitmaster locomotives, as well as detailed OO gauge railway stock to compete with Hornby Dublo. At the time, Hornby’s products weren’t very detailed, so hobbyists started to favor Airfix’s locomotive selection.
7) Airfix became the UK’s biggest toy company
In 1971, Line Bros went belly up, and Airfix was able to acquire Meccano and Dinky. This expansion made them the UK’s biggest toy company.
8) Airfix was bought by General Mills (yes, the food company)
In the early eighties, the pound strengthened massively against the dollar, which destroyed the Airfix’s export markets. In 1981, Airfix filed for bankruptcy. It was bought by General Mills (yes, the food company).
By 1994, General Mills had left the toy market, and Airfix had fallen under the ownership of Humbrol, who were bought by Hornby Hobbies Limited in 2006, who outsourced production to India to cut costs.
9) James May created a lifesize Airfix kit
In 2009, for his show James May’s Toy Stories, the lovable Top Gear presenter decided to create a full-scale Spitfire kit (one of Airfix’s bestselling kits of all time). The finished full-size plastic Spitfire was kept at the RAF Museum for some time.
Treat yourself to an Airfix kit
If all this talk of Airfix has made you fancy – or if you’d like to introduce a youngster to the hobby – then take a look at the bestselling starter kit!
Get it here: Airfix Supermarine Spitfire Starter Kit, £12.31, Amazon
If you buy from the links in this post, Geek Soup will earn a small commission. All prices correct at the time of publishing.
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