Scale modeling has been around a lot longer than many of us may realize. Models have been found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs and those of Chinese Emperors, Leonardo Da Vinci built scale models of many of his inventions just as engineers and architects do today for testing purposes. These early models were built of wood, metal, ceramic, bone and any other material that was suitable. Modelers continued to shape and carve wood to make models of their favorite aircraft, but in 1936 this all began to change.
Toward the end of 1936 the first line of plastic model kits, from Frog Models in the UK, began to appear. It was to be nearly another four years before companies such as Renwal, Lindberg, Hawk and Varney began to crank out plastic models here in the US in 1940.
Plastic model manufacturers, here and in Europe, barely had a chance to get started before something known as World War II put an abrupt end to their business as commodities such as plastic, rubber, gas, aluminum, copper and iron, etc., all became necessary items for war and the manufacture of a wide variety of weapons and equipment.
With the end of WWII and the prosperity that followed model manufacturers resumed production.
The 1950s saw several well known model companies coming into existence around the world. In the US Revell, Monogram, Aurora and AMT began turning out their first kits. In Europe Matchbox, Airfix, ESCI, Italeri and Heller came into being, while in Asia and Fujimi, Nichimo and Bandai joined the growing list of manufacturers.
The 1960s saw the addition of Hasegawa, Otaki, Entex, and Tamiya (1966) from Japan. I remember my first Tamiya kit was their original first kit from 1960 the German 1/35 Panther kit, purchased at a discount store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1967. I thought it was great, despite all the inaccuracies and problems that I had no idea about at the time. That was my first piece of armor. Until then I had built Aurora Movie Monsters and figures. Aurora, AMT, Revell and Monogram car and truck kit, ships and aircraft.
The modeling industry from the ‘50s through the ‘70s saw a lot of growth as a result of the public interest in the jet age and the fact that companies like AMT and Jo-Han produced a line of promotional assembled plastic models of new car models for the manufacturers. These promo models, with added part such as engines and optional tires/wheels, found their way into the modeling market as most car model manufacturers turned out models of the new cars every year. You could count on finding a new Camaro, Charger, Mustang, Corvette or Galaxie 500 shortly after their appearance on the showroom floor.
The ‘80s and ‘90s saw an explosion of new manufacturers and new subjects. Most of these companies were from Japan, Korea and China. Companies like Academy, Dragon/DML, AFV Club and Trumpeter. The growth has continued as each year a new company steps into the fray, many of them from Eastern Europe. In the past ten years we have seen Kinetic, MiniArt, Bronco, Hobby Boss, IBG, Meng, Riich and several others. With the use of Computer Aided Drafting and much improved mold technology releases come faster and faster every year with greater detail and accuracy.
This little rundown on some of the history of plastic modeling has covered just the world of injection kits, there is still much to discuss in the areas of conversion kits, resin, metal parts and decals. Maybe I’ll think about that for the next Musing.