Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Monogram Models Night

Activities at the BPMS December Meeting will include our Monogram theme contest. All you have to do to enter is build any Monogram kit issued before the merger of Revell-Monogram. Kit-bashing and modifications are okay, but please no resin or aftermarket photo- etched parts. If you have the original box art and/or instructions, please bring ‘em along for display. To set the stage for our Monogram Night, here’s a quick Internet history of Monogram Models by Frank Colucci.

The fit of the parts wasn’t always great, and the working features usually didn’t work for long, but all of us got some of our love of plastic modeling from Monogram kits. Monogram’s founders Robert Reder and Jack Besser worked for Comet Models making wooden recognition models and scale drawings for US forces in World War II. They started their own company in Chicago in 1945, initially selling balsa model ships. In 1948, Monogram branched out with a wooden Jet Midget Rocket Car propelled by a CO2 cartridge. “Speedee-Bilt” flying kits like the Midget Mustang racer and Kaydet biplane trainer soon included plastic cowlings, propellers, and other details with their die-cut wooden parts. With the market success of Revell’s easier-to-build plastic kits in the early 1950s, Monogram entered a plastic kit competition that continued until 1986 when the two companies merged.

Monogram issued its first all-plastic kit – a 1/25 scale Midget Racer – in 1954, and quickly expanded its model range to include aircraft, ships, military vehicles, and spacecraft. The company’s first all-plastic aircraft kit was a B-26 Invader. Many Monogram kits included exceptional details and accessories. The first release of the C-47 Skytrain in 1955 had paratroopers, and the 1/77 scale Ford Trimotor arctic explorer that same year gave the modeler a dogsled team. Competition with Revell gave many kits working features. In 1955, a 1/83rd scale B-66 Destroyer dropped a nuclear bomb when the builder pushed a button on top of the wings. A 1/72 scale SA-16 Albatross had both retractable landing gear and a diorama crew to be rescued from a life raft.

The growing line covered a range of detailed subjects and non-standard box scales. The Monogram Wanderlust sailing yacht was 1/54 scale, and the Snark cruise missile in 1957 1/80th. Monogram introduced well-detailed car models in 1/24th scale, a little bigger than the competition. In 1959, the company issued a 1/24 1932 Ford 'Deuce' hot rod with a Mercury engine and detailed suspension. Not all the cars were real -- in the early 1960s, Monogram launched a series of "fun cars” based on vintage and fantasy automobiles. The Li'l Coffin show rod included a skeleton; the Red Baron a Fokker triplane; and Rommel’s Rod an Afrika Corps-ghost crew.

Monogram models also got bigger and more elaborate. The company started releasing 1/8 scale car kits in 1962, and the 32nd-scale Phantom Mustang, 24th-scale Phantom Huey, and 48th-scale Visible B-17 had large clear parts to show off interior structure and working parts. The 1/72 scale B-52 was released in 1968 with a motor for jet engine sound.

Also in 1968, Monogram started a still-successful line of Snap-Tite models that required no glue for assembly. That same year, Monogram was acquired by Mattel Toys which reorganized pushed more working gimmicks. The motorized 1/48 Flap Jack 'Air Farce' had the shape of the XF-85 Goblin with flapping wings and a turning propeller. The product line nevertheless grew with accurate, popular WWII types and jets. The 72nd scale B-36 in 1977 remains the largest plastic aircraft model in mass production. Financially troubled Mattel sold Monogram Models to private investors in 1984, and the company was sold yet again in 1986 to the holding company that purchased Revell.

Jack Besser died in October, 2004 at age 89; Robert Reder passed away this February at age 93. The company they started continues to operate under Revell Inc., headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Illinois and now owned by Hobbico based in Champaign, Illinois.

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