The Story Behind Megow Balsa

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Anyone who knows of the Golden Age of Model Aircraft has worked with balsa wood.  This excellent article was printed in several of the Megow Company catalogs during the 1930s and 1940s.   Fred Megow got his start selling balsa and wood stock from the famous ‘Green Cabinet’ in local Philadelphia, PA hobby shops.  The kits that followed were all made of balsa as well, so Megow took the material very seriously, color coding their stock by the grade of wood; yellow (dead soft), orange (soft), red (medium), green (hard) and black (extra hard).  When World War II interfered with supplies,  balsa was hoarded for production as it as at Hawk and other manufactures.  Sadly, Fred Megow chose to close down his international hobby empire in the late 1940s.  I hope you enjoy this article, transcribed here with all of the original photos.  (Alan Bussie)  Google+ profile


Editor’s Introduction: Thousands of model airplane builders have for years used balsa wood with infinite skill and cleverness! Yet few know any more about it, other than it comes from South America. Therefore, we have asked Mr. Eger, our tropical wood expert to write the article which follow:

Well, to start with, up to this date, as far as I know, there is no literature on the Balsa Tree.  The few descriptions that have appeared in this country regarding it are short and in many instances contradictory. It has been my privilege to observe and study the flora of the tropics for a quarter of a century, and the balsa tree, due to its peculiarities, has attracted my attention especially. Thanks to these special studies, I have been called upon to manage a balsa plantation, the only plantation of this kind of tree in the world, where I had the opportunity of planting, cultivating and logging the balsa tree for a number of years.

In the following I give to our readers a condensed description of this wonderful tree, which I know will be of great interest to builders of Megow models.

The Balsa Tree belongs to the Bomacaceae (Linné), and its Latin name is Ochroma. There exist many species of Ochroma, of which the following are known to me:

  • Ochroma limonensis, found in Costa Rica and Panama.
  • Ochroma lagopus, found in Cuba, Jamaica and the other Antilles.
  • Ochroma concolor, found in Guatemala and Honduras.
  • Ochroma velutina, found on the Pacific coast of Central America.
  • Ochroma tomentosa, found on the upper Magdalena River, Colombia.
  • Ochroma obtusa, found on the lower Magdalena River, Colombia, and finally
  • Ochroma grandifolia, found in the Republic of Ecuador.

This last mentioned species interests us most, as almost 100 percent of all balsa shipped to the United States is exported from Ecuador. The reason for the predilection of Ecuadorian balsa is found in its finer texture, white color and extreme lightness of weight.


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