Historians debate the origins of paper airplanes. The ancient Chinese used papyrus paper to invent the kite, but their primitive designs likely did not resemble modern flight. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about constructing a flying machine out of parchment. In the early 19th century, Sir George Cayley identified the four primary aerodynamic forces of flight and built kite-like gliders out of linen. Early attempts at constructing flying machines fascinated children and adults alike. The success of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 fostered renewed hope of powered flight and no doubt contributed to the purported invention, in 1909, of the paper airplane. The principles that make an airplane fly are the same that govern paper versions. Paper’s high strength and density make it similar, scale-wise, to the materials used to construct airplanes.
Where some toys require financial investment, paper airplanes start with a simple sheet of paper, coupled with dexterity, to produce a toy with infinite aeronautical possibilities. The paper airplane was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2017.