Monday, January 8, 2024

The Birth of Model Rocketry

 In 1957 a man by the name of G. Harry Stine was working at White Sands NM designing missiles. He would soon lose that position after having talked honestly to the press about what the Soviets launching Sputnik really meant for America (that if they could launch that, the ability to launch nukes wasn't far away). 

All was not lost, however. In his position he had found that many youths were wanting to fly their own rockets. Unfortunately, a safe, reliable method of doing so was yet to be invented, and several kids had gotten seriously hurt.

Enter Orville Carlisle. He dabbled in fireworks, and was able to use that experience to design a single use black powder rocket motor. This, coupled with a model rocket design where one could change out these motors when used, lead to the invention of the modern model rocket.

Orville wrote to Stine and sent him some samples and G. Harry convinced him to go into business making and selling these modern marvels under the Model Missiles, Inc name. 

Flash forward 50 years to 2007 and Harry's son, David just so happens to own his own model rocket company, Quest. To honor 50 years of model rocketry, Quest came out with a duplicate of MMI's product. I happened to buy one. Here it is!

The kit is a model of the Aerobee-Hi, a sounding rocket that G. Harry Stine had personal knowledge of.

The side of the box showing the parachute that made the model reusable.

The end of the box with the 50th Anniversary logo

Opening the box shows some pretty simple parts.

A cardboard tube, balsa wood fins and nose cone, and recovery system are about all there is. Oh...and decals.

Here is a copy of the original instructions. Again, pretty simple stuff.

If you don't want to just look at the pictures, the more detailed write up explains everything. 

Although those were probably needed in 1957 when no one had built a model rocket before, the picture is about all most people would need now.

And here are detailed instructions on how to actually fly the model. Again, these were vital in 1957.

These notes on weather still hold true. And although the Chinaman art work might not be particularly PC today, the advice is sound. These things can fly upwards to a mile high (with high power motors), after all!

MMI didn't last long. Within a year or so they sold out to a guy named Vern Estes who had invented a machine that could do what MMI couldn't- namely make motors quickly and safely enough to meet the huge demand! Vern's machine, "Mable," revolutionized model rocketry and Estes is still the largest manufacturer of model rockets in the world. 

By the way, Vern Estes turned 94 last week and is still going strong!

So there you go! You now know the back story to a hobby that defined the childhoods of millions of boomer kids!

Until next time, keep searching for treasure!


  1. "Estes" is a name I know well. [I'm glad Mr. Estes is still with us.] My husband was into model rockets in his pre-teen years - through adulthood. The neighbor kids got involved, too, and it was fun to see them launch -- and, hopefully, land safely.

    It's an excellent hobby for responsible kids [and adults], and much better than playing video games for hours, IMO.

    I chuckled at a sentence in the "Weather Notes" instructions:
    "Altitudes may be computed from these angles by using trigonometry."
    I don't think kids today can read, write or spell - let alone do trigonometry. But they probably have an App that figures it out.

    Thanks, Stu. May all your rockets land softly and within view.

    1. Yeah, model rocketry increases skills in building, science and problem solving. Video games make you fat.
      No contest!


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