Skip Navigation

Then & Now: Airplane Toys

Then & Now: Airplane Toys 

Wish Book

If your kid is hoping for a shiny new drone on Christmas morning, it might be tempting to shake your head. But before you start rambling through breakfast about the toys back in your day, remember that kids' fascination with the skies is anything but new. Sure, you weren’t flying a smartphone-compatible drone to chase the family dog around the yard, but remote-controlled aircrafts for kids have made hot gifts for decades.


Picture this: it's 1959. Eisenhower is President. America has just picked up its 49th and 50th states. But all your baby-boomer-self cares about is flying a fighter jet around your idyllic suburban neighborhood without throwing out your shoulder by chucking it to the sky. You eat your vegetables, do your homework and say things like "gee whiz" and "by golly!" You're a good kid just hoping for Santa to bring you the hottest new toy.

"They Really Fly," promises the Sears 1959 Christmas Book, and then you remember what your kids are so dang excited about. So instead, point out how good your little ones have it these days with smug comments on how far technology has come.

For one, many remote-controlled planes of yore were powered by engine fuel. Yes, a toy for children actually involved handling an alarmingly flammable substance. The accessory kit that you could purchase with your airplane came with fuel, a pouring spout, engine wrench and a battery wire. That definitely sounds like ages 10 and up.

But with wingspans of up to 30" and exciting warplane designs, how could you not want to spend hours daydreaming around the neighborhood of one day becoming a pilot. Just wind up the propeller and let 'er rip, and your status as the coolest kid on the block has been cemented.

Airplane toys in the 1959 Sears Christmas Book
Polaroid PL800 Drone


Nowadays, it's all about drones. It's pretty much the same thing, right? Kids can download an app and use their smartphones as viewfinders to watch live-streamed photos and videos from above. Observe in slight jealousy as your kids’ toys fly hundreds of feet in any direction, performing tricks like 360° flips, all while running on a rechargeable battery that can be plugged into the wall. They don’t even have to come inside when the sun goes down, since LED lights allow them to zip and zoom through your local airspace well into the night. Kids have it so easy these days.

But if you're really that jealous, just know that you too had the chance to own a drone even during the Einsenhower administration. The "Amazing Satellite" that sold alongside the nostalgic airplanes advertised an aluminum ring that would spin and rise up to 1,500 feet into the air.

As the Wish Book put it, it was a "fascinating toy that tells of things to come." That's certainly true.


More Wish Book Then & Nows