Blast from the Past: Airfix

Mergers and takeovers of various brands have already featured in this series.
Tony Stratford sets out to unravel the mystery that begins with Airfix in the mid-1970s and is set to get increasingly complicated over the coming months.

The name Airfix is synonymous with plastic construction kits and is often the generic name given to any plastic kit irrespective of who has manufactured it – just as all vacuum cleaners are referred to as Hoovers!

Official Airfix press photo of the Airfix 14xx 0-4-2T that first appeared in the catalogue in 1978.

The story begins just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when a Hungarian refugee, Nicholas Kove, set up a company in London to manufacture inflatable rubber toys. These required air to be inserted in them to fix them. Kove, working on a limited budget, realised that if he called his company Airfix it would be the first to appear in any trade directories.

Kove was born in 1891 as Miklos Klein (Nicholas Kove is a translation). He served as a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War and was captured by the Russians from whom he eventually escaped.

After serving as an assistant minister in the postwar communist government, he emigrated to Algiers in 1922. In 1934 he moved with his family to Barcelona and founded a plastics company. War once more intervened in the form of the Spanish Civil War, enforcing a move to Milan, Italy. In Milan, Kove developed a process for stiffening shirt collars, which was called Interfix.

He moved with his family to London in 1938 and when the Second World War came to an end in 1945, Airfix was the first UK company to introduce a plastic injection-moulding machine in 1947, which was used to produce plastic combs.

One of the first catalogues for the ready-to-run range.

One of its biggest customers at that time was the retail giant FW Woolworth, which had opened its first British store in Liverpool in 1909, and was subsequently found in just about every major high street up until the closure of retail premises in the UK in early 2009 with the closure of 819 stores. The original company was founded in the USA in 1878 and the Woolworth name remains in use across the world.

Airfix supplied a number of items to Woolworth, including sink draining boards and other kitchen equipment.

In 1949 Airfix was commissioned by Harry Ferguson (head of Ferguson the tractor manufacturer) to make a cheap model of his TE20 tractor for use by the Ferguson sales force as a promotional tool. In order to produce it, the tractor was split into a number of components for assembly by Airfix staff. Moulded in acetate, it was hand-assembled for distribution to Ferguson sales representatives.

To increase sales and lower production costs, the model was sold in kit form to FW Woolworth’s retail stores.

For the full article, see September’s edition of Modelling – available now!

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