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United Electric's Tinplate Powered Airplane Display

by Jerry Dzara

United Electric Co. of Aiden Michigan manufactured electric small appliances in the 1920's and '30's. One of their items was a table fan called the Eskimo. During the height of the Lindbergh mania in 1927, United decided to try and get their market share of airplane toys. They made a lithographed tower with a spinning arm with a tinplate toy aeroplane on each end.

One plane was a "dummy," but the other had a 110 volt fan motor with a pitched blade propeller.

When plugged in, the motor in the powered plane spun the steel propeller until the plane began to move through the air. Being attached to the the same cross arm, the "dummy" plane also rotated around the tower.

An add from the "American Wholesale Catalogue" shows the price of $7.50.

Interestingly, it is called a "show piece". This makes me wonder if it was sold as a toy or as a retail display, or both? The tower is hollow, with just a contact plate, all movement is caused by the propeller. According to the add, the powered plane starts on the floor and rises as it picks up speed. It then, says the add, begins to dip and rise as it whirls. I've not been able to duplicate this, and I just added weight to the dummy to make then spin evenly. The Dummy originally had a celluloid propeller. Mine was split by 83 years of use so I made a replacement of thin aluminum.

Judging from their scarcity, I believe these were not the Big Sellers that United electric hoped for. United was acquired by McGraw Edison in the mid 1930's. As I said, if it was sold as a toy, then the kid was certainly adventurous. A steel propeller revolving at who--knows--what RPM, driven by a 110 Volt power source was surely not for the faint hearted. It is an interesting device, that always attracts attention when run.


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