You probably never thought much about paper airplanes other than how best to get one into the back of your math teacher’s mind. Still, if you had to guess, you’d think this was the invention of a Depression-era ragamuffin dreaming of a future in the exciting new field of aerospace engineering, right? It turns out that they actually go back to ancient chinawhich raises some questions. How did the old folks know about airplanes? Is it aliens? Is the answer finally aliens ?! Again, no. These pre-industrial people just didn’t know they were building airplanes.
Those ancient Chinese proto-planes were actually more like origami birds that they tossed in the air, but probably had no intention of flying. Later on, aerodynamic pioneers like Leonardo da Vinci built their model airplanes out of paper, but the paper airplanes that children play with today were born sometime about the civil war. You know, back when air travel was a science fiction fantasy that people imagined it would look like.
Therefore, these early paper airplanes weren’t actually called paper airplanes. They were called paper arrows, but that didn’t stop the children from sailing them to every oppressive adult they encountered. They were a staple of those one-bedroom schoolhouses, and throwing a schoolhouse during a meeting on the New York Stock Exchange was punishable by a $ 10 fine, since it seems like financial brothers have always been financial brothers.
Even long after air travel became a reality, they were referred to as paper arrows until the 1950s when aircraft design tended towards a leaner appearance. Airplanes actually evolved to look like paper airplanes, not the other way around. Should we tell our kids to start folding flying cars? Is that how it works? That’s probably how it works.
Upper picture: KristopherK / Pixabay