|The Public Paperfolding History Project
page contains information about the early history of, and
early literary references to, paper planes. I am always
happy to receive further information and references on
It is commonly stated that paper planes originated in China over 2000 years ago. I can find no evidence whatsoever to back up this assertion. It probably arises due to a confusion between paper planes and paper kites.
It is also commonly asserted that Leonardo da Vinci invented the first paper plane, or, at least experimented with them. A discussion of the evidence (or rather lack of evidence) in relation to this assertion is set out on my page 'Was Leonardo da Vinci a Paperfolder?'
A version of the Paper Dart, but folded from a square, appears in 'Origami (Part 1)' by Isao Honda, which was published in Japan in 1931
A paper plane folded from a square appears in 'Origami Dokuhon' by Akira Yoshizawa, which was published by Ryokuchi-Sha in 1957.
A paper plane folded from a rectangle and called 'The Missile' appears in 'How to Make Origami' by Isao Honda, which was published by Toto Shuppan Co. Ltd in Japan, by McDowell Obolensky of New York in the USA and by Museum Press Ltd of London in England, in 1959.
Children folding and flying paper planes similar to the Missile were featured in the film 'Origami: The Folding Papers of Japan' made by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1966.
In Western Europe / the USA
The Paper Dart / The Arrow - 1864 onwards
The Paper Dart is nowadays considered to be a paper plane, but, as its early names suggest, it was not viewed as a paper plane when it was first designed.
In 1867 a patent was issued in Great Britain to Butler and Edwards for a steam powered aeroplane based on the Paper Dart. The details below are taken from 'Progress in Flying Machines' by O Chanute, published in New York by M N Forney, the Foreword to which is dated January 1894.
The Cut and Fold Model Aeroplane - 1886 onwards
'Progress in Flying Machines' by O Chanute, published in New York by M N Forney, the Foreword to which is dated January 1894, contains other mentions of paper darts and experimental paper aeroplanes.
From page 16
From pages 73 and 74
Also in 1894 an article on 'Paper Birds', which were really bird shaped paper gliders, weighted with pins, was published in the Scientific American Supplement vol 37 on pages 15184/5. It was reprinted from an article in the New York Sun.
The Swallow - 1917 onwards
According to Wikipedia, p38 of the book The Wind and Beyond written by Theodore von Kármán with Lee Edson, published in 1967 by Little, Brown and Company contained the following description of the folding of a paper plane by Ludwig Prandtl at the 1924 banquet of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. 'Prandtl was also somewhat impulsive. I recall that on one occasion at a rather dignified dinner meeting following a conference in Delft, Holland, my sister, who sat next to him at the table, asked him a question on the mechanics of flight. He started to explain; in the course of it he picked up a paper menu and fashioned a small model airplane, without thinking where he was. It landed on the shirtfront of the French Minister of Education, much to the embarrassment of my sister and others at the banquet.' I have not been able to locate this source to check the reference. It is not clear from the context what design this paper plane was.
'El Mundo de Papel' by Dr Nemesio Montero, which was published by G Miranda in Edicions Infancia in Valladolid in 1939, contained a design called 'El aeroplano' which is a hybrid between the Swallow and Cut and Fold Model Aeroplane designs.
'At Home Tonight' by Herbert McKay, which was published by Oxford University Press in London, New York and Toronto in 1940, contains a chapter on 'Parlour Science' which includes a discussion of the effect of air pressure on falling objects, particularly paper and cardboard sheets, and 'A very elegant glider'.
Harbin's Aeroplane appears in 'Paper Magic' by Robert Harbin, which was published by Oldbourne in London in 1956. The text does not give any instruction for launching this plane and it may have been intended to be a static model.
The 1957 Rupert Annual contained instructions for making 'Rupert's Paper Glider'.
The 1962 Rupert Annual contained instructions for folding 'A Paper Glider'.
In December 1966 an advertising agency acting for the journal 'Scientific American' placed advertisements in three American newspapers / magazines, 'The New York Times, 'The New Yorker', and 'Travel Weekly', announcing the 1st International Airplane Competition. Entries were to be submitted by post. Those entries found to fly particularly well in trials were sent forward to the Final Fly-offs held at the New York Hall of Science on 21 Feb 1967. There were four categories of competition, for duration aloft, distance flown, aerobatics and origami. According to the Origamian for ..... entries in the origami category did not actually need to be able to fly. Each category was subdivided into entries submitted by air travel professionals (including subscribers to 'Scientific American') and non-professionals. The winners were to be awarded a trophy known as 'The Leonardo'.
Details of the winning entries were subsequently included in 'The Great International Airplane Book' by Jerry Mander, George Dippel and Howard Gossage which was published by Simon and Schuster in New York in 1967.