You've probably never given much thought to paper airplanes beyond how best to sail one into the back of your math teacher's head. Still, if you had to guess, you'd think they were the invention of some Depression-era ragamuffin dreaming of a future in the exciting new field of aero-engineering, right? It turns out they actually date back to ancient China, which raises some questions. How did ancient people know about planes? Is it aliens? Is the answer finally aliens?! Once again, no. Those pre-industrialist people simply didn't know they were making planes.

Those ancient Chinese proto-planes were actually more like origami birds, which they did throw into the air but probably didn't intend them to fly. Later, pioneers of aerodynamics like Leonardo da Vinci built their model planes out of paper, but the paper planes that kids play with today originated sometime around the Civil War. You know, back when air travel was a science-fiction fantasy that people imagined would look like this.

That's why these early paper planes weren't actually called paper planes. They were called paper darts, but that didn't stop kids from sailing them toward every oppressive adult they encountered. They were a fixture in those one-room schoolhouses, and throwing one during a meeting at the New York Stock Exchange was punishable with a $10 fine because apparently, finance bros have always been finance bros.

Even long after air travel became a reality, they were still called paper darts until the '50s, when airplane design trended toward a sleeker appearance. Planes actually evolved to look like paper planes, not the other way around. Should we be telling our kids to start folding flying cars? Is that how this works? That's probably how this works.

Top image: KristopherK/Pixabay

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