Written by Rachelle Haughn
As featured in the November 2012 issue of Model Aviation.
Bonus video content to be featured in the Model Aviation tablet app.
In his 72 years of life, Carl Goldberg held many titles. Boss, co-owner, flier, club founder, Hall of Famer, entrepreneur, “father of model aviation,” Nats champion, “Mr. Modeling,” perfectionist, husband, and dad are some of many. But to all who ever had the privilege of knowing him, the legendary Free Flighter was simply known as “friend.”
October 27 would have been Carl’s 100th birthday. He accomplished more in his lifetime than any modeler or designer of his time could ever dream of, but his daughter believes that most remember him for who he was, rather than what he accomplished.
“The thing that everybody always said to me was that he treated them so well,” Carol Lieberman, Carl’s daughter, said after shipping orders at Jet Glues—a spinoff company from one that her father started.
“He had no sense that everybody wasn’t equal. He really liked people and that was the thing that I think impressed most people.
“He had this huge respect for life, all life. He believed all people have creativity within them and they needed to be nurtured. He believed all people had the same basic desires for a good life and deserved a good life. He just took people for the best that was in them.”
1941 Carl Goldberg, Al Horback, Robert Reder
Jack Butler created artwork and plans drawings for Carl Goldberg Models from 1968 to 1985. Jack stated, “He was a wonderful guy. He was very honest, very straightforward. He was just a gentleman. He was a good boss.”
And when it came to what Carl did for a living, his work was top-notch and original. “He was probably one of the best [model airplane] designers in the country,” Jack said.
Carl Goldberg drafting
Some of the models Carl designed include the Valkyrie, the Clipper, the Zipper, the Blazer, the Ranger, the Eagle, and the Sky Tiger. One of his models, the Gentle Lady, was created in honor of the love of his life, his wife, Beth, his daughter said.
“Carl was always thought of as the father of model aviation,” Jack said. “Everything that we came out with was a best seller and a good flier.”
Carl’s passion for designing, building, and flying model airplanes apparently began when he was a child. “The designing started at a very, very early age,” Carol said. She has assignments from elementary and high school on which her father doodled airplane designs. “It was, without a doubt, a lifelong love for him,” she said.
After graduating from high school, Carl enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. While there, he sold model airplane supplies through mail order. He had to withdraw because he had no money for tuition. Carol recalled a video interview conducted by AMA employees in the early 1980s where Carl admitted that he had no funds for college because he was spending most of his money on airplanes.
Carl in Chicago snow holding plane
Carl opened a hobby shop in Chicago in 1935 and continued to build and fly airplanes. He created the Valkyrie, a gas-engine-powered model, in 1936. Some models he flew weren’t of his own design.
After unsuccessfully flying an aircraft designed by Comet Model Company, he decided to voice his dissent. “Dad wrote a letter to Comet complaining about their advertising claims and saying that they weren’t true and [the aircraft] couldn’t fly as long [as claimed], etc. Louis Kapp, one of the three owners of Comet, paid him a visit. Louis came by the model shop and discussed the thoughts [Dad] had and Louis asked, ‘Can you do any better?’”
Louis left the shop with some of Carl’s models, tested them, and sold them. From there, came the contract for Carl to work for Comet. Carol said she has the contract of employment her father signed. It was signed in April of 1940, with a beginning salary of $40 per week. It later increased to $45 per week, she said. “That was pretty hilarious, how he came to work there,” she said.
Carl Goldberg with Comet War Identification Models
While working as chief designer at Comet, Carl met Beth, a secretary who was Louis’s cousin. “Most people think of [model aircraft] as my dad’s industry. It was my mom’s industry as well as dad’s because of her family,” Carol said, adding that her mother was not a modeler at that time. “They met and fell in love and married,” Carol said of her parents.
Carl worked for Comet for roughly five years before starting his own company with Mike Schlesinger and Sidney “Sid” Axelrod, with whom he had worked at Comet. American Hobby Specialties, later known as Top Flite Models, began operations in 1947 and sold gas model propellers called Top Flite and Power Prop.
In 1955, Carl decided to venture out on his own and start his own company with his wife. Carl Goldberg Models, and what he created while operating the business, is likely what made him a household name.
“It was just kind of a natural thing [for him to start the company] because of his design background,” Jack said of why he believed Carl started his own business.
In the beginning, Carl Goldberg Models sold a simple line of $1 scalelike kits, mostly made of balsa. The company later expanded to include glue.
Carol said her father was reluctant to charge more than necessary for his products because he felt they should be obtainable for everyone. She said this likely stemmed from the fact that Carl’s father left his mother when he was a 1-year-old, and she struggled to raise him on her own.
“Like most small businesses, my brother and I occasionally did a few things,” Carol said of Carl Goldberg Models. She became more closely involved in the business shortly before her father passed away. “I had a role at the end. My mom was much more involved.” Carol helped do mailings in the summer.
“I ran [the company] for about the last six years.” Her father passed away in 1985, and she sold the company to Lanier in 2002.
Jack noted that Carl designed most of the airplanes that his company sold until the 1960s when an employee took over. Carl Goldberg Models is known for airplanes such as the Senior Falcon, Eaglet, Swordsman 18, Shoestring Stunter, and Junior Tiger.
Jack said nearly everything Carl built flew perfectly. “Carl was very much a perfectionist.” Jack said the designer likely had some airplane designs that he didn’t like hidden in a closet somewhere, so no one would see them.
Carol agreed. “He was never satisfied with himself.
“I think he was an original thinker. He really didn’t believe in putting limits to creation or imagination,” she said. “It’s clear to me that he excited people with what he was able to accomplish that hadn’t been done before.”
Carl Goldberg with plane in New York
Carl was a perfectionist when it came to flying. He won first place in the 1934 and 1937 Indoor Nats. Carol remembers him staying up all night working on his models in the hangars at the naval bases where the Nats was held.
“From as long as I can remember, we would all go to contests on the weekends,” Carol said. “Every summer our vacation was going to the Nats and we would take the ’52 Ford. Dad loved to drive. He was very particular about how the car was packed. That was quite a ritual and it was quite tense. And then when he got behind the wheel, you could literally see him unwind.
“I remember the planes going up. Still, for me, watching FFs go up is one of those amazing things to watch. [I remember] those airplanes going straight up in the air with that engine screaming. Then, you jump into the car and [are] told ‘don’t take your eyes off that airplane.’ It was a fun way to grow up.”
“He was a wonderful Free Flight flier,” Jack said. “He wasn’t the best radio flier. I flew a lot of his airplanes for him.”
Jack was a member of the Suburban Aero Club of Chicago and said Carl was one of the founding members. Carl also founded the Chicago Aeronuts club in the 1930s. Carol said the primary focus of the Aeronuts club was to share aeromodeling knowledge with others, in an effort to advance the sport. “He was a great believer in openness,” she said.
This belief in being forthcoming was something Carol and her brother, Bob, honored after Carl’s death. Their father had open-heart surgery in 1981, during which he was given blood transfusions. At least one of the units of blood was contaminated with AIDS. He passed away on January 28, 1985.
“My brother and I chuckle that he was always a man ahead of his time. He didn’t fit the profile for how people contracted AIDS back then,” Carol said. “We felt we should make public how he died because we wanted to help people in the modeling community become familiar with this disease.”
Before and after his death, Carl’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed. He was named an AMA Fellow in 1959, and was one of the first people inducted into the Model Aviation Hall of Fame. He was named to the National Free Flight Hall of Fame, the Vintage Radio Control Society Hall of Fame, and received the Howard McEntee Award in 1984. He was posthumously inducted into the Society of Antique Modelers Hall of Fame and the Kits and Plans Antiquitous Hall of Fame.
Carl and Beth also ensured that others would receive the recognition that they deserved. They created the Carl and Beth Goldberg Vital People Award in 1983 to honor “vital people in the background of the modeling movement whose efforts to enhance the enjoyment of the hobby and whose accomplishments are seldom formally acknowledged.” Beth passed away in 1997.
Carol doesn’t have any definite plans for honoring her father on the 100th anniversary of his birth, but she likely will reflect on the vivid memories she has of him when the day arrives.
“The people who knew him very well sometimes had a love/hate relationship with him. He could be demanding, difficult. He was not a saint.”
She said some may be surprised to learn that her father loved music. He had a beautiful singing voice and enjoyed composing music, she said. “From the time I was a small kid, I remember hearing him sing while shaving in the morning.” She said he also loved to write poetry.
“He was an extraordinary father despite his faults. People could tolerate his faults because of the wonderful things about him.”
See more photos and videos in the November 2012 Model Aviation tablet app.
1959: AMA Fellow
1969: Model Aviation Hall of Fame
1978: National Free Flight Society Hall of Fame
1984: Vintage Radio Control Society Hall of Fame
1984: Howard McEntee Award
1992: Society of Antique Modelers Hall of Fame
1996: Kits and Plans Antiquitous Hall of Fame
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