The Hi-Flier Manufacturing Co. was once the world’s largest kite maker, headquartered in Decatur, Illinois. With kites such as the American Beauty, Strat-o-Flier and Hi-Flier Little Boy, and with the slogan “Playmates of the Clouds,” Hi-Flier ruled the sky. Here’s how it happened:
1921: Harvey A. Sellers, a paper salesman, begins tinkering with kite designs in his Decatur, Illinois, basement. He uses a wire loop to hold two sticks together — a decision credited with making the product strong but light.
1922: The Hi-Flier Kite Co. is officially founded, and within a week moves into Sellers’ garage to handle orders. The bow kite and barn-door kite are early models.
1923: The company relocates to a plant at 165 E. Marietta St., where 34 employees produce 10,000 kites a day. “The whole world seems to be demanding kites and they keep asking for Hi-Flyers from Decatur,” Sellers.
1927: The company buys the Brist Manufacturing Co. of Topeka, Kansas, maker
of dolls, games and toys.
1928: Production reaches 20,000 kites a day as the company moves to 510 E. Wabash Ave.
1935: The company’s glider airplane becomes a big seller, but is discontinued when the government puts a freeze on balsa wood imports, which were used for life rafts during World War II.
1953: The assembly line employs 85 and makes six kite models, including a plastic model.
1960: A 10,880-square-foot warehouse is built, followed by a 9,240-square-foot warehouse seven years later. At the height of sales in the 1960s, 200 workers are employed. Promotional kites becomes a big part of the business.
1971: Things change. Needham, Massachusetts-based Damon Corp. buys the company. Damon makes mainly model rockets and chemistry lab supplies.
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1978: Harvey Sellers Jr., son of the founder who took over in 1964, leaves the company. He dies in 1984.
1981: Hi-Flier is consolidated with Damon Corp. at the company’s Estes Rocket Division in Penrose, Colorado, closing the business in Decatur after 60 years. An auction is held in September 1981 at the Wabash factory, which had grown to twelve buildings. A brick structure is all that remains.