Flying Good Times
Harvey A. Sellers, was a seller of paper. He was also an avid kiting enthusiast. Disappointed by the poor construction and quality of available commercial kites, he began tinkering with kite designs in his basement. His break came with the idea to use a wire loop to hold the sticks together. This made his kites strong and light. This was in 1921.
The following year he launched the Hi-Flier Kite Company. The endeavor started simply enough. Sellers began selling bow and barn door style kites from his garage. By the 1950s, with diversification, Sellers company was a leading producer of kites, kite kits, model airplane kits, bird feeders, and even hockey sticks.
Flying Good Times Business soared by 1923 the company had outgrown Sellers garage and was moved to a small manufacturing facility at 165 E. Marietta Street in Decatur, Illinois. Soon Hi Flier Kiter had a staff of thirty four employees and was producing an astounding 10,000 kites a day. Hobby stores throughout the world were soon placing orders as the companies reputation grew.
By 1928 production had doubled to 20,000 kites a day prompting the company to relocate to a larger facility at 510 E. Wabash Avenue. This was also the year that Sellers expanded his sales network, and diversified production with the acquisition of Brist Manufacturing Company of Topeka, Kansas, a maker of dolls, kites, games and toys.
At the height of the Great Depression, in 1935, the company was the largest commercial manufacturer of kites and balsa wood gliders. In fact, before the U.S. government put a freeze on balsa wood imported from Ecuador used for life raft construction during WWII, the Hi Flier Kite Company was the largest purchaser of balsa wood in the world. But the best was yet to come for the company.
Flying Good Times In 1953, a local newspaper wrote a profile of the company and noted that the assembly line employed eighty-five workers. Six model of kite were produced including a new plastic variety and advertising kites for companies such as Kroger, the grocery store chain. By 1960 the company was reaching its zenith. A 10,880-square-foot warehouse was built and there were two-hundred full time employees producing and shipping kites and other products.
In 1971, Needham, Massachusetts-based Damon Corporation, a leading manufacturer of chemistry lab kits and model rockets buys the company. A few years later Harvey Sellers Jr., son of the founder, left the company. The final chapter was written in 1981.
With little fanfare announcement was made that the Hi-Flier Manufacturing Company would be consolidated with Damon Corp. at the company’s Estes Rocket Division in Penrose, Colorado. After nearly sixty years in business, Hi Flier Kite Company was to be closed. A Herald & Review story quoted a company official who said that the company hadn’t made a profit since 1974, despite selling an estimated 6 million kites in the 1980 season. In September 1981, at the Wabash Avenue factory which had grown to a complex of 12 buildings an auction was held. Equipment, stock, inventory and promotional materials were sold.
In the second decade of the 21st century, a single nondescript brick structure is the last tangible link to the legendary manufacturer. Today Hi Flier kites and memorabilia are treasured by kite enthusiasts.
Tumbleweeds and Tarantulas may not be as world famous as Hi Flier Kites. Still, for kite enthusiasts in the Colorado River Valley, it is a destination as well as a place where memory making adventures begin.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America