Yes, they were called paper darts in England.
I also found some interesting research completed by Ian Leonard, see source(s) below for the original website, but let me cut and paste it into the text here...
Spent enjoyable couple of hours exploring your excellent website(yahoo geocites) and its many links. Im researching early aeromodelling and hence paper aeroplanes, both model and flying. The French were first off the mark with their paper "Imagerie d`Epinal" cutout sheets. These Started in the early 19th century, ie. 1805/10 ! Napoleonic paper armies of infantry and cavalry. over the following 100 years Epinals were printed on every aspect of Victorian life. Horse drawn vehicles, Chemin de fer (railways) Ships from sailing to Ironclads, buildings by the hundreds all over the world. Im sure the Capitol in Washington was done pre 1900 as was Versaille, Tower of London,or St.Peters Rome. So when Balloons and Dirigibles came along there was an up to date paper model rushed out ! I have A Zepplin 1 Airship and they certainly did Santos Dumos`s Paris ship in 1902/3. You recall that nobody in Europe knew about the Wrights flight in1903 ( not many in the USA did either ! or the wouldn`t believe it more like. So it wasn`t till 1906 that the real Wrights flying in 1906 that anyone took any notice of events. The first French paper planes were the Santos 14bis and the Dameselle, the Wright Flyer was produced in 1908 when it demonstrated its prowess at Le Mans and then Rheims in 1909. Almost the day after Bleriot crossed the Channel in July 1909 there was a paper model ready to sell.If you`d like to see some of these early paper planes go to website of ://pierreg.free.fr/carton/memories . Also theres a very good chapter in Blair Whitton`s super book on "Paper Toys" published in 1986 by Hobby House Press Inc- ISBN o-87588-289-7. He was the Curator of the Margaret Strong Museum in Rochester NY. who should have some original sheet examples. Fantastic Toys ! I visited it some 12 years ago.
Now to England. One of the pioneers of aeromodelling in1908 in London was E.W.Twining, the son of the Tea Magnate of the same name ( Tommy Lipton was another Tea Baron at the same time who kept trying to win the "America`s Cup" back from you Yankees!) He designed and successfully flew model planes in 1908 and09, as did another young man called A.V.Roe who got somewhat side tracked in to making real ones to found the AVRO aeroplane Co. -from 504K to Lancaster bomber to the Vulcan delta. Where does this get us, you might well ask? Well a sense of aeronautical history no less. In 1909 EWTwining produced a book called " Model Gliders" which contained three cutout things to fly ,-a butterfly, a swallow and a model of the Wright Flyer of 9 1/2 inch wingspan ! plus diagrams of two more paper gliders. How about that ! I also have a 1 penny postcard which is a cutout paper plane with a Design Registration No. which dates it to October 1909.
So Ken . I think 1909 is the first for flying, but maybe 1908 for paper models, afterall they cant be before the real planes can they ? In 1920 William Appleby took out a patent for paper aeroplanes (Brit No. 171499 and No.1,377,867 in USA on 10/5/1921. These series of Biplanes (inc. SE5A) were made successfully through the 1920`s until they went bust in 1931 in the Depression. I have 4 of these Kits in my collection, but am still seeking at least 3 others.
The other important name in paper plane design is of course Wallis Rigby- my Hero- who started making and selling many paper flying aeroplanes from 1930 onwards thro to the 1940`s when he designed the series of Wheaties Flyers for General Mills Cornflakes packets. these were all cut and paste jobs up to nearly 30inch span rubber powered. Im Seeking info on any Rigby cutout models published by Grosset and Dunlap (now part of Putnam-Penguin of NY) in the late `40s and early 50s when he came bake to the UK.
This email has turned in to a MSS so thanks for bearing with the lecture, but you can appreciate I`m as serious about paper planes as you are,they are just different kinds of the same animal, they FLY
Im sure you are right (no pun intented) there were paper planes before the Wright brothers, maybe they experimented with them ! There`s just been a new publication of their letters and aero notes presumeably by the Smithonian, so it might be worth checking. I will admit I had not thought about it too much. I have copies of Aero and Flight pre 1908 so I`ll have a search. However I think we should consider that Monsieur Penaud c1872 might qualify as the first model air plane because he used feathers for the wings of his rubber powered flyer and Heliocoptere (the first time this word was used) . I`ve just done a check up and find that Penaud did a card winged flyer in 1871 ! Another Frenchman also made small flying things (you notice I don`t use the word Model)in1872 was Jobert and a fellow called Huveau de Vileneuve (theres a F1 driver of the same name) also made an ornithropter.