The first model rocket was developed in the United States of America in 1957 as an educational aid for teaching science. Since then, model rocket engines which use black powder prepared for safe use by young people have been produced according to the Model Rocket Engine Standards of the Federation d' Aeronautics Internationale (FAI). In the last 30 years, there have been over 300 million accident-free launches worldwide.
In 1947, British corporations ICI and WM. obtained the patent of a model rocket as an auxiliary propulsion system for a model airplane. In the following year, a demonstration flight was performed in London. This type of engine was patented in Japan in 1952 as a solid filler for gas generation. This engine was capable of producing approximately 50 grams propulsion for about 20 seconds with 30 grams empty-weight. It was mainly used for a jet propellant system for model airplanes and model cars. Similar engines were sold in Japan until the 1960s in model shops under the brand name of Tiger Rockety. This engine, however, was not light enough for rocket experiments and did not have enough propulsion for rocket flight experiments.
The first American model rocket company was Model Missiles Incorporated (MMI), in Denver, Colorado, opened by Stine and others. Stine had model rocket engines made by a local fireworks company recommended by Carlisle, but reliability and delivery problems forced Stine to approach others. Eventually Stine approached Vernon Estes, the son of a local fireworks maker. Estes founded Estes Industries in 1958 in Denver, Colorado, and developed a high speed automated machine for manufacturing solid model rocket motors for MMI. The machine, nicknamed 'Mabel', made low cost motors with great reliability, and did so in quantities much greater than Stine needed. Stine's business faltered and this enabled Estes to market the motors separately. Subsequently, he began marketing model rocket kits in 1960, and eventually, Estes dominated the market. Estes moved his company to Penrose, Colorado in 1961. Estes Industries was acquired by Damon Industries in 1970. It continues to operate in Penrose today.
Competitors like Centuri and Cox came and went in America during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but Estes continued to control the American market, offering discounts to schools and clubs like Boy Scouts of America to help grow the hobby. In recent years, companies like Quest Aerospace have taken a small portion of the market, but Estes continues to be the main source of rockets, motors, and launch equipment for the low-medium powered rocketry hobby today.
Due to the strict control imposed by the Explosives Control Law in the 1960s, model rocketry was not introduced to Japan until the end of the 1970s and early 1980S. At that time, science clubs in high schools and universities began experimenting with model rockets by importing a small number of model rocket engines produced according to the international standards on a personal basis or by developing composite propulsion systems on their own using perchlorate as oxidizer. The 1980 IAF congress held in Tokyo reported as follows, 'Japanese space development activities after World War 11 started with the development of a pencil rocket by the Institute of Industrial Science of Tokyo University. Students of Tokai University, Waseda University, Kawasaki High School in Kanagawa Prefecture, and Chusei High School in Tokyo are also conducting model rocket experiments. Preliminary experiments are conducted in Chiba Prefecture for commercially importing and popularizing model rockets. However, due to concerns on security in society and possible influence of the current social situations including student riots, import permit have not been issued under the Explosive Control Law for toy pyrotechnics (the propulsion system of a model rocket or the model rocket engine) even for the smallest type.'
In Japan, the first model rocket was launched at the Space Jamboree of the Young Astronaut Club (YAC) held at Kujyukuri Beach in Chiba Prefecture in December 1986. In 1989, the Juvenile Center of Koshigaya City in Saitama Prefecture openly conducted model rocket launch experiments. Nonetheless, it was still an impossible dream for an ordinary Japanese youngster to assemble and launch model rockets.
Websites: National Assocation of Rocketry