European Plastics News staff
Posted 30 January 2012
Airfix, founded in the UK in 1939 by Hungarian émigré Nicolas Kove, began by manufacturing air-filled rubber toys. In 1947, the company switched production to plastic pocket combs, reputedly using the UK's first injection moulding machines.
In 1948, Airfix's fortunes changed when it was commissioned to produce a promotional toy - the Ferguson Tractor. The customer's budget was not sufficient to deliver complete tractors - which were made from polystyrene - so they were made in kit form. Around 50 were initially produced.
Such was the tractor's popularity that Kove decided to start producing commercial kits. In 1952, Airfix produced a model of the Golden Hind ship. This was presented to UK retailer Woolworth, which insisted it would not sell for anything more than two shillings - compared with Airfix's proposed price of over twice that amount. The solution was to package the kit in a plastic bag with a simple two-colour header card. The model was a total success. A year later Airfix started injection moulding aircraft kits.
In 1957, on Kove's death, Airfix went public and in 1962 bought Kitmaster with its range of locomotive kits. By now, it was producing 20 million Airfix kits a year. Airfix went bust in 1981 - not because of its kit range, which was very profitable, but because of over-ambitious expansion. It had bought Meccano and Dinky in 1971, which were then in deep trouble. Airfix was bought by Palitoy and production was moved to France. In 1986 Airfix/Palitoy was bought by Humbrol and in 2006 the company was acquired by Hornby Hobbies, when Humbrol went into administration.