The History of Plastic Scale Modeling

Posted by on Feb 16th 2018

Scale modeling has been one of the most popular crafting hobbies for years but did you know how it all got started? There’s more history to your injection-molded plastic kits than you would have ever thought. In this post, we’ll discuss how scale modeling first started.

Where it All Began

Scale modeling has existed for millennia, to depict military installments, defense mechanisms and other large machines cost-effectively before construction began. Leonardo Da Vinci was famous for creating intricate scale models of catapults, paddleboats, and even mechanized robots during his life to present to the local rulers.

From Concept to Production

Moving into the 20th and 21st centuries, scale models went from representations of concepts to commercially available products. Many credit the scale model revolution to Lewis Glasser of Revell and Nicholas Kove of Airfix when they decided to use their injection-molding systems to produce toys that were then sold to a manufacturer in parts, where manufacturers would then assemble and paint the models.

Upon realizing their success with these disassembled plastic toys, both companies began producing scale model kits of ships and aircraft and brought them to the market. Initially, these kits were very crude by today's standards, and the inconsistent scale of the models made it hard to consider them accurate representations of the original vehicles.

As you would expect, the first model kits were very basic, most notably the single-piece flat wings for the airline models. That being said, they did get some things right, and the rigged cords and chain pieces from Revell’s 1/90 scale ship sets are highly coveted to this day.

Improving the Models

While the original manufacturers were largely concerned with profit above all else, new model manufacturers rose up to create skillfully crafted model sets that met consistent scale requirements and were based on a variety of different vehicles, including airplanes, tanks, cars, and ships.

These new models were also produced relatively cheap by today's standards, meaning hobbyists could afford to build a variety of models and curate a substantial collection. With this boom in popularity, the need for high-quality decals for these models became apparent, and manufacturers began producing decals with military numbers along with camouflage patterns to make the models as realistic as possible.

Modeling in the 21st Century

Today, models come in a variety of sizes and scales thanks to modern manufacturing systems. You can find a model for practically any car or plane and the instructions are written in a simple manner, allowing even the novice to assemble a model correctly. Different materials require different tools than before, and the design of scale models is becoming more and more sophisticated as time goes on.

Nobody knows where the future of scale modeling goes from here, but for now, it’s definitely in a good place.

When did you first start building scale models? Do you remember the first one you put together? Let us know! We love to hear the personal history others have with this hobby and the memories they’ve created.