Estes Industries was founded in 1958 in Denver, Colorado. Vern Estes developed a machine called 'Mabel'. Mabel was a machine designed to inexpensively manufacture model rocket engines for Model Missiles Incorporated.that mass-produced solid propellant model rocket engines. This invention gave people a consistent and reliable way to launch model rockets. Later, the company branched out into the mass production of balsa nose cones and adapters for model rockets. Estes began selling model rockets by mail in 1960.

Estes produced a wide variety of rocket model kits, normally using paperboard tubing for the fuselage and balsa wood for fins and nose cones. Early models tended to be relatively simple in design terms, differing in terms of size, number of stages and recovery method. One particularly well-known design from this era was the Camroc, a small camera that replaced the nose cone of larger models that was designed to take a single image on a small disk of film when the motor had burned out and the rocket was facing downward. The Cineroc used a small movie camera that could be launched from larger rockets, taking a series of frames as the rocket ascended.

Later model kits from the late 1970s and early 1980s tended to be more for show than performance, including a series of scale or sport-scale designs and 'exotics'. Centuri was also well known for these sorts of designs, and the two companies often copied design elements from the other's latest models. The downturn in the hobby in the later 1980s led to consolidation of the two companies. During the 1990s the model line was dramatically reduced, and the ones that were left were typically very simple 'three fins and a nose cone' designs that were partially or entirely completed.

In January 2010, the Estes-Cox Corporation was purchased by Hobbico, a 100% Employee-Owned Corporation based in Champaign, Illinois, and will continue operations in Penrose, Colorado.

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