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Then & Now: Airplane Toys


Then & Now: Airplane Toys 

If your kid has been dropping not-so-subtle hints 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 robot to chase the family dog around the yard, but remote-controlled aircrafts 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 into the sky. You eat your vegetables, do your homework and say things like “gee whiz.” You’re a good kid just hoping Santa will bring you the hottest new toy.

For one, many remote-controlled planes of yore were powered by engine fuel. Yes, a toy for children actually involved handling an extremely 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 sure sounds like it’s for ages 10 and up.

But with wingspans of up to 30” and exciting warplane designs, how could you not want to spend hours daydreaming 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.

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Airplane toys in the 1959 Sears Christmas Book


Polaroid PL800 Drone

These days, your children download an app to use their smartphones as viewfinders to watch live-streamed photos and videos from above. It’s pretty much the same thing, right? Observe in slight jealousy as your kids’ drones 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 have to come in when the streetlights go on either, as 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 airplanes you might remember advertised an aluminum ring that would spin and rise up to 1,500 feet into the air. As the catalog put it, it was a “fascinating toy that tells of things to come.” That certainly proved true.


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