Maker: BALSA DREAMS
BUT HOW WAS THIS POSSIBLE? THE
striking fidelity with my memories suggested Guillow’s stagnation, if not terminal
decline. I conjured up a grim globalization
scenario, imagining that a giant toy multinational had long ago scooped up Guillow’s
and moved its manufacturing plant to
China or some other cheap-labor locale.
What else could explain such stasis?
I could not have been more wrong.
Curiosity piqued, I soon learned that while
the golden age of the model airplane
hobbyist scene belongs to the distant
past, and nearly all the competitors that
Guillow’s battled for market share in
the 1930s, 40s, and 50s are as dead as
the dinosaurs, Guillow’s is still independently operated and chugging forward.
Remarkably, the firm still operates in the
same Wakefield, Mass., warehouse complex that Paul K. Guillow, its eponymous
founder and World War I Navy aviator,
moved into back in 1933.
After digging deeper, I realized I was also
wrong to create such a strong dichotomy
in my mind between the visceral pleasures
of glue and the digital distractions of the
21st century. Guillow’s isn’t frozen in time
— it continues to roll out new model kits
and modernize its own manufacturing
technology in ways that serve its customers while staying true to the past.
And can there be little doubt that the
internet is a hobbyist’s best friend? As any
amateur who has struggled with the sometimes opaque instructions of a Guillow’s
kit will recall, building a balsa wood model
airplane can be enormously frustrating.
And that, I believe, is why God invented
The Guillow Legacy
In 1926, Guillow capitalized on his experience as a Navy pilot by creating, in the
barn of his family home in Wakefield, a
line of simple balsa wood construction
kits based on World War I combat aircraft
that retailed for the backbreaking price of
10 cents each. His timing could not have
been more perfect. Charles Lindbergh’s
successful 1927 cross-Atlantic solo flight
in The Spirit of St. Louis ignited a national
aviation obsession — what one historian
of the model airplane industry excitedly
described as “the greatest torrent of mass
emotion ever witnessed in human history.” A score of model airplane kit makers
popped up to feed an insatiable hunger
born from the romance and futuristic
promise of air flight.
36 Make: makezine.com/28