Airfix: A Brief History of 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.

The first models

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 Woolworth’s.

Five years later, Jim Russon, the buyer at Woolworth’s, suggested that Airfix create a model kit of the Golden Hind; a ship that circumnavigated the globe in the late 16th century. Woolworth’s 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.

Kove, was 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.

Soaring to new heights

Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, the company continued to thrive, and it introduced vintage and modern cars to its offering of kits, along with motorcycles, rockets, space ships and aircraft.

The amount of modelling hobbyists also grew rapidly, resulting in the company releasing Airfix Magazine – a hobby publication, which was published monthly from 1960 until 1993.

This rapidly expanding hobby hadn’t gone unnoticed by competitors, either. Rival firms such as Matchbox started popping up in the market.

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.

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.

Changing hands

In the early eighties, the pound strengthened massively against the dollar, which destroyed the Airfix’s export markets. The add salt to the wound, the toy companies Airfix had acquired were losing money.

In 1981, Airfix filed for bankruptcy. It was bought by General Mills, which owned American model kit company MPC, and all the kit moulds were sent to its factory in Calais, France.

By 1994, General Mills had left the toy market, and Airfix had fallen under the ownership of Humbrol – a company founded in Yorkshire, that specialises in hobbyist paints and adhesives for model making.

Under Hornby

In 2006, Humbrol went into administration and Hornby Hobbies Limited stepped in to buy both Humbrol and Airfix.

It moved Airfix’s production to India to save on costs. It also started to re-issue old popular ranges from Airfix’s past, and also launches several new kits every year.

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