History of Estes Model Rockets

I posted about this on Boing Boing earlier in the week, but it has gotten such a big response (from nerds of a certain age) that I thought I’d post it here as well.

This 21-minute mini doc looks at the creation of the model rocket hobby in the late 1950s and the creation and rise of Estes Industries, the first large-scale commercial model rocket company.

Some great footage and photos here of G. Harry Stine, Vern and Gleda Estes, Mike Dorffler (inventor of the Cineroc), Bob Cannon (Estes educational outreach), and others.

How many Adafruit readers built and flew model rockets in their youth?


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1 Comment

  1. I wish I had those catalogs. The old catalogs exist on the web. A lot of replicas of military rockets were made.

    It wasn’t just Estes back then. There were at least 3 model rocket companies. One was Centuri. Another was Apogee. You could also buy high powered rocket engines but we never did because of price. I think the most powerful rocket engine I saw was an “F” engine but there were more powerful engine. Rockets could have 3 stages back then but became uncontrollable unless you understood where the center of gravity was .

    Now there are restrictions and its easier to find a group to work with because they carry more weight. You have to get permission from the FAA for class 2 rockets and have land to fly on like a farm. If there was wind, you could spend a lot of time chasing after them because the wind would take them and if you didn’t have it painted, it would go out of sight. And you had to have enough batteries because you would forget to turn the launch system off while watching a flight and frantically have to run to recover the rocket. And others recovered rockets in the woods from meets.

    There was also a program to get free stuff if you made rockets for hobby stores but few ever finished them.

    There were also rocket powered remote control gliders in different forms.

    There are also “meets” but they usually have a launch controller and safety officer and you won’t be allowed to launch your own and you will have to wait forever to set up. If the igniter falls out, you lose a lot of time. Some people even tore apart the old flash cubes because they created enough heat to launch a rocket engine and blind everyone else.

    There were rockets that took 110 or 35 mm film but the hard part was superglueing the lense on without covering the lense.

    And people got their fingers stuck together using superglue and using Elmer’s to glue wood fins on a cardboard tube was hard which is why builders turned to epoxy and heat guns. The hobby fueled a whole maker and model industry. It was also at the time of the Saturn 5 and Space shuttle Era.

    You could buy a Saturn 5 and Mercury rocket but they discontinued some of those kits. I think it involved a lot and paper. I think they were hard to build.

    There was a couple of rockets I could tell you about but I would have to look over old catalogs to find their names. One was like a coned glider that you could attach putty to and it would fly around in circles on the way down and make a buzzing sound if you were lucky.

    There are a lot of restrictions today because of insurance, local ordinances and laws. Work with a group that is allowed to play on private property like a farm where there is a lot of land.

    Follow the rules and practice safety. Back then I could buy insurance for this hobby and it wasn’t expensive but it helps protects you. You don’t want a park ranger fining you because the wadding between the parachute and rocket body is considered littering and park rangers can watch you with binoculars. They watch you even if you don’t see them. They probably have restrictions these days because I am sure it scares some people who don’t understand the hobby. We have fireworks restrictions now because of animals that go crazy on the 4th of July and Veterans with PTSD so not everyone likes model rocketry.

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