Throughout history, plastic scale models were used to represent everything from prototypes of the great inventors to troop formations and beyond. They’re still used occasionally in movies and heavily in architecture, but gone are the times when you could walk into a shop and see the walls lined with plastic scale models or find one as a centerpiece of a sci-fi television program. From aircraft, starships, and classic cars to film vehicles and beyond, scale modeling was a popular hobby for a long time. While it might not be as popular in today’s time, scale modeling still affected an entire generation and left its mark on pop culture.
For years now, scale modeling has been among the most popular crafting hobbies, but did you know how everything began? There’s more to the history of the injection-molded plastic kits than what you would’ve ever thought. Read on to learn how scale modeling first began.
Where it All Started
Scale modeling has existed for thousands of years to depict defense mechanisms, military installments, and other giant machines cost-effectively before the start of construction. Leonardo Da Vinci was famous for making intricate scale models of paddleboats, catapults, and even mechanized robots throughout his life to give to the local rulers.
From Concept to Production
Going to the 20th and 21st centuries, scale models developed from concept representations to commercially available products. Many credit Nicholas Kove of Airfix and Lewis Glasser of Revell for the revolution of scale models; both men decided to use the injection-molding systems to create toys sold to manufacturers in parts. The manufacturers would then assemble the models and paint them.
During the 30s and the 40s, before Revell pioneered the use of plastics in creating their model kits, most models were produced from wood. Ships in bottles already existed since the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the 50s that plastic models grew popular. By the time 1956 came, famous Boy Scouts magazine—Boys Life stated 80% of boys would come to be builders of scale models. About the same year Revell was learning how to utilize injected molded plastic to form their model kits, an interesting event occurred over halfway across America in Chicago. Two former employees of Comet Kits company have settled on breaking away and establish their own model company. In 1945, Monogram was established and mainly focused their attention on selling balsa wood plane kits. As Revell got into the plastic car market, so did Monogram.
Upon seeing their success with the disassembled plastic toys, the company started to produce scale model kits of aircraft and ships and took them into the market. At first, these kits were pretty crude based on today’s standards, and the models’ inconsistent scale made it difficult to consider them accurate depictions of the original vehicles.
As expected with the first model kits, they were pretty basic, especially the single-piece flat wings made for the airline models. With that said, they did manage to get some things right, and the chain pieces and rigger cords from the 1/90 scale ship Revell sets are still highly coveted up to this day.
Two other companies—Model Products Corporation (MPC) and Aluminum Model Toys (AMT) came along in 1948 and 1963—making the first “Big Four” model companies. They all started competing with each other as the years passed by, until one by one, they merged and ultimately acquired by a company that regularly re-releases kits from the ages of models past—Round 2, LLC.
Except for the “Big Four” American companies, Italy’s Italeri and the Korea-based Academy were founded in the 1960s. They competed in the global market along with Japan’s Tamiya, who first made the 1940s wooden models mentioned in the earlier paragraphs. That is until the company also transitioned in 1959 to plastic models.
Improving the Models
While the original manufacturers were primarily concerned with profit above everything else, new model manufacturers emerged to produced skillfully crafted model sets based on different vehicles such as ships, tanks, airplanes, and cars and met the consistent scale requirements.
Also, these new model kits were made relatively cheap by modern-day standards, which means hobbyists can afford to build various models and curate a sizeable collection. With this sudden rise in popularity, the demand for high-quality decals for the models became evident, and manufacturers started to produce decals with camouflage patterns and military numbers to make the models look as realistic as possible.
Modeling in the 21st Century
At present, models come in various scales and sizes, owing to modern manufacturing systems. You can get a model for practically any plane or car, and the instructions are simple, allowing even the beginner to assemble a model perfectly. Different materials need different tools than in the past, and the design of the scale models is growing more and more sophisticated as time passes.
No one knows what will happen to the future of scale modeling, but it’s definitely in a stable place for now.