Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

February 22nd, 2009:

Glites, Gliders, and North Pacific Products

When I was a freshman in high school, I remember picking up an odd paper kite at Walgreen’s. It was called a Glite, and was billed as a “gliding kite.” I was intrigued, and as it might have cost as much as 35c, I was willing to try it. The instructions indicated that even on a completely calm day, you could pull it aloft on a string, let the string go slack, and it would glide gracefully to the ground.

I never tried that; completely calm days were unusual where I grew up. However, I did try just tossing it horizontally, and it flew better as a glider than a lot of the small balsa wood gliders I’d played with over the years. Unlike the diamond bow kites I’d always flown, the Glite had a center of gravity a lot farther forward, giving it the balance of a glider rather than that of a conventional kite. Its two lead edges were relatively thick wooden dowels, as was its spine, making it a lot heavier than most kites as well.

It’s a shame it didn’t fly better as a kite. The one day I did try to fly it kite-style, there was a nasty wind, and my Glite looped helplessly in the air over the Edison schoolyard before ending up in the low branches of one of the kite-eating trees that stood in the parkway up and down the full length of the school property. I managed to get it down, but tore the sail badly in the process. It sat in my corner of the basement awaiting repapering, but I never got around to it and eventually threw it out.

I always wondered who made the Glite and how long the product had been on the market, though never badly enough to spend any time searching. Earlier today I spotted a paper Glite on eBay, and the seller kindly sent me the patent number printed on the sail. This led me to US Patent #3,276,730, which had been granted to Charles H. Cleveland of North Pacific Products of Bend, Oregon, in 1966. The irony is that the patent is titled “Tailless Kite,” when in fact the damned thing needed a tail pretty badly. Interestingly, the patent text does not mention the device’s gliding ability at all; Cleveland must have discovered that later on, or perhaps did not consider it a patentable aspect of the product.

Searching for other inventions patented by Charles H. Cleveland led me to US Patent #2739414, a balsa wood “knock-down toy glider” in which the wings were attached to the fuselage by a short length of plastic extrusion. I recognized it instantly as a species of glider abundant at Bud’s Hardware Store and other places when I was eleven-ish. You could fine-tune the balance of the glider by sliding the red plastic extrusion forward and back along the spine, and I remember that they flew very well, for something that probably cost a quarter. Cleveland liked things that flew; he also patented an oddly cubistic boomarang (which I never saw in a store) and a rubber-band catapault launched glider toy, which I did see once in a hobby shop, though never bought.

I did a little looking for North Pacific Products, Inc. and found no trace of the firm. A Portland, Oregon lumber products company is now using the name and does not mention toy manufacturing in its history. The SSDI lists a Charles Cleveland whose last residence was Bend, Oregon, and lived from 1917-1982, which would be about right. (His last patent was filed in 1980.) I may buy the Glite and would love to do an article about it; if you know anything else, please pass it along.