History of Estes model rockets

Originally published at: History of Estes model rockets | Boing Boing


So, so much fun as a kid doing these. Sometimes they’d go up, and just disappear.


Tried to get my daughter into it, but after we lost 2 in the woods and then the igniters wouldn’t work she just mumbled “…why don’t we just get bottle rockets”.


My parents cleaned their basement and brought my rocket out for Christmas. I have to figure out a place I can use it around here.


Hadn’t model rocketry existed before?

I thought Robert Goddard was presented as an amateur. Robert Heinlein in “Rocket Ship Galileo” in the late forties had his teenage characters involved in model rocketry.

I have a pocket paperback from the late fifties or early sixties about model rocketry, and not written by Harry Stine.

Obviously it ramped up when Sputnik went up. And Estes made it safer and easier. But I don’t think it’s the whole story.


Those little igniters were horrible. We switched to actual lit fuses jammed up there, bent and taped in place with a bit of cellophane tape. With a long enough fuse, we didn’t have to rush back in fear.


I had a kit as a kid and put one together for my kids co-op class. Still great fun.


Not as a casual hobby anyone could get into with a commercially available kit.

It’s a whole different level of commitment when you have to make your own solid rocket propellant.


Did you actually watch the video? That’s all in there.


One of my favorite science books as a child was The Amateur Scientist by C.L. Stong (1960). It was a collection of Stong’s columns from Scientific American, and included projects ranging from homemade x-ray machines to cloud chambers. One of the articles was on amateur (not “model”) rocketry. He discussed how to turn the nozzle on a lathe, the formula for the rocket propellant, and even how to build a bunker to protect yourself during the launch. I loved it. Also, the illustrations were by the amazing Roger Hayward, and one of the highlights of the book:

I recently found a PDF copy of the book online, and the article on Amateur Rocketry starts on page 468 in the file: http://www.baytallaah.com/bookspdf/The%20Scientific%20American%20book%20of%20projects%20for%20the%20amateur%20scientist,%20Stong%20(1960).pdf


still to this day one half-A-six-two just rolls off the tongue.


What a cool book. I found a “modern” amateur rocketry book in say 1972 or so. It went into solid and liquid fuel propellants for the hobbyist. Way over my head as a kid, and good thing too. My Dad probably would have drawn the line at liquid oxygen and hydrogen. But now I have an oxygen tank at home and the local gas station sells hydrogen! Hmmmm.


The book you refer to might be Brinley’s “Rocket Manual for Amateurs.”

The video lumps early, pre-Stine/Carlisle rocketry (what we now know of as “amateur rocketry”) into model rocketry. It was really a different animal. More a research activity by budding engineers and scientists than a modeling hobby. Stine wrote at least one article about it early on.


Last summer marked my 50th anniversary of discovering model rocketry! I probably flew my first model (horribly dangerous no-recovery-system thing; we could afford motors but not kits) late in 1970 or maybe early in 1971.

I (finally) got to meet the Estes’s (and the Piesters, the couple behind Centuri) five years back.

That’s at the Seattle air and space museum, which has a very nice model rocketry exhibit.


Those are the same years I was into MR. But I gave up after my launch/recovery ratio was 3/0. I do miss the smell of butrate dope.

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I think teaching kids to build and launch those model rockets was probably my favorite experience as a Cub Scout leader. Pinewood Derby races are fun and all but they don’t have that “boom” factor.



I was always interested in model rocketry but never got past bombs and homemade hydrogen balloons which I would explode - a la Hindenberg, aloft - at least that was the intention - but my hydrogen was not that pure and sometimes an inflated balloon would not rise but just explode in my face. I was just using strips of newspaper as wicks. Once gave my pal a significant contribution to send away for an Estes rocket but when it arrived he and his dad launched the rocket without telling me.
But the Chinese must take the credit for invention of fireworks and the rocket festival in Laos is something to behold. Call it the Woodstock of Rocketry.

Drunkeness and BIG rockets are a potent combo


We strapped Estes engine to pinewood derby cars, whilst lacking boom factor the resulting grass fire brought an impressive array of fire trucks.


I guess I’ve been mispronouncing the name Estes all these years: I was saying ess-Teez where the narrator was saying more as Ess-taes


By opening the hole at the base of the nosecone a bit, you could fit ladyfingers in there. Glue the nose cone on, take out the parachute, and you could make it go crack-crack.