Models of ancient wooden boats have been found in tombs across the Mediterranean, from Greece to Egypt, though these were likely used as ceremonial offerings rather than as toys. Some of the earliest model boats in America were re-creations of Noah’s ark, with small biblical characters and animals carved from wood, similar to nativity crèches.

Realistic replicas of wooden sail boats, sometimes referred to as “pond yachts,” were popularized during the sailing-schooner trend beginning in the 1860s. Though ostensibly for the children of affluent families, these boats were up to six feet long and were often piloted by fathers. During the same era, the world’s navies were transitioning from sail to steam, a change visible in model boats, too. Self-propelled toy boats provided fascinating entertainment for kids everywhere, some of which used tiny steam engines to run continuously for up to an hour. Everything from delicate pleasure boats with ornate floral designs and gilded bows to ominous hard-working warships floated on park ponds.

In the late 19th century, more affordable toy boats were produced from lithographed, sheet-metal cutouts. These dime-store products moved on wheels rather than water. Sometimes called “carpet rollers,” they included Meier’s “Meteor Boat” with a candy box mounted on top and wheels inset into the deck. Other motorized tinplate boats imitated boats carrying tiny crews or elegant courting couples, whose arms actually paddled little oars.

Miniature versions of the most famous ships like the Titanic or USS Constellation became popular as model-building kits because of their ornate details and complicated workings. Beginning at the close of the 19th century, companies such as Bassett-Lowke, Revell, and Hornby created complex kits for adult collectors, who'd spend countless happy hours assembling these highly realistic models.

Major changes in naval-boat technology were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century, resulting in many new toy varieties, including wind-up battleships, torpedo boats, and submarines produced by manufacturers like Märklin, Bing, Carette, Arnold, and Fleischman. Using rather simple mechanics, some of these underwater vehicles could dive and resurface multiple times after a single winding. Though almost all of these military ships included mounted weaponry, some could be loaded with a gunpowder mixture to simulate battle. A particularly clever model was designed after the Spanish-American war of 1898—it depicted a Spanish battleship that would break apart and sink after being struck by a rubber torpedo.

Sutcliffe created the first toy boat with a hull made from a single piece of metal in 1932. Soon the company had expanded its ship series to include submarine models like the famous Nautilus and Sea Wolf. The Nautilus was inspired by the submersible ship featured in the Disney film “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” and came with the distinctive teal coloring and ribbed gold decorations favored by Captain Nemo.

Many of the highest quality model ships were designed by German toymakers like K. Arnold & Co. Arnold’s popular lithographed tin toys ranged from its wind-up coast guard motorboats to its single-man rowboat, though the company stopped making tin toys in the 1960s to focus on model railroads. Another German firm, Bing, created historic ocean liners and warships of tinplate, which were painstakingly painted by hand. In contrast, Hornby released a lovely modern series of wind-up speedboats like the Alcyon and Venture models, which featured plastic windshields and miniature drivers whose heads rotated.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Germany Toy Ship Key Wind Up Clockwork Tin Steamship As Is Bing Era BoatCirca 1950 Gas Tether Racer Boat - No Bing Tin Marklin Clockwork Germany Car CoxAntique Rare Mercury Model Electric Boat Outboard Motor In Original BoxLarge San Lighting 50 Speed Race Boat Out Board Tin Litho Battery Op Japan BoxedVery Nice Vintage 1955 K&b Sea Fury 049 Gas Outboard Toy Model Boat EngineOld Bluejacket Robert E. Lee Confederate Steamboat Paddlewheel Model Ship KitBilling Boats 1:50 Scale Marie Jeanne 580 Wood Ship Model Kit Em Rg German Made Tin Wind-up Boat Ocean Liner Carette (?) Tin Ship, 9 Inches, NiceLot (11) Vintage Tootsietoy Die-cast Prewar Military Ships Boats Nr (dakotapaul)Vintage Vtg Revell "thermopylae" Model Clipper Ship Boat Kit H-390: 1195 - IobMantua Panart #738 Hms Victory 1:78 Scale Wood Ship Model Kit Em CrVintage Revell Model Ship Kit Pedro Nunes Navel 36" 1967Rare Vintage Tin Friction Hadson River Streak Race Boat S-16 Complete NiceModel Shipways Kit #2015 Fair American Revolutionary War Brig Ship Model KitHms Victory 34" Wood Model Ship Scaled Sailing Tall British Boat WarshipSuper 1:380 Revell-de Oil Freighter Hawaiian Pilot, Unopened - Wow!Vintage Model Boat Battery Powered & Remote Control 22” In Length Circa 1960s Old Tin Toy Boat With Lepage Electric Outboard Motor Academy 1:400 Scale Rms Titanic Premium Edition Plastic Ship Model Kit Em Rg Saito Model Marine Boiler B2f Model Ship Marine Boat Steam Engine & AccessoriesMantua Panart #747 S. Felipe 1:75 Scale Wood Ship Model Kit Em CrVintage K&o Models Wood Boat Engine & Drive Unit Kit Prop Rudder #102 Engine NibSuper 1:400 Revell-de Oil Tanker Glasgow, Unopened - Wow!Lindstrom Wind Up Pt Boat TinModel Shipways Willie L. Bennett Chesapeake Bay Skipjack Wood Model Ship Kit 2 Schuco Wind Up Toy Police Speed Boats # 3002 Plastic Us-zone GermanyVintage Marx Pt 107 Tin Litho Toy Boat Torpedo War Ship Nr! Nice!Vintage Stream Line Boat Motor, Toy MotorRed China Tin Patrol Boat Ms878 Windup Operated 60s Top Condition Model Shipways, Inc. Syren Us Brig Kit No.ma2260Billings Boats Cutty Sark 564 Tea Clipper Lasercut Wood Model Sailing Ship Revell Authentic Robert E. Lee Mississippi Steamboat "s" Model Kit-19561955 Revell C-3 Freightliner Hawaiian Pilot Unworked Model Kit Ship BoatVtg Toy Boat Old Classic Pond And Wood Out Board Johnson Motor Running Classic Mantua Sergal #787 Hms Victory 1:78 Scale Wood Ship Model Kit Em CrBlue Jacket (1/8" To 1 Ft. Scale) Plank On Frame Wood Kit - Yacht America 1851Revell The Thermopylae Plastic Model Clipper Ship Boat H-390:1200 Large 34" LongVintage Model Boat Battery Powered & Remote Control 25” In Length Circa 1960s 1964 America's Cup Constellation Wooden Yacht Sail Boat - 48" Long By 60" TallVintage Antique Wind-up Toy Boat Ship Clockwork With Original BoxModel Fire BoatImai Pirate Ship 1/100scale Model OpenNavis Ww1 Gb Seaplane Tender 'hms Ark Royal' 1/1250 Model ShipRare Vintage Aeropiccola Torino Wood Ship Model Kit Italy Americana Del 1799Vintage Sterling Chris Craft 63' Motor Yacht - Kit B-11mSterling Model Toy Chris Craft Boat Complete Pond Old Built Parts Motor Classic.Finest Old Vintage Japanese Sterling Silver 960 Model Ship Yacht By Seki JapanShipways Model Dapper Tom American Privateer 1815Artesania Latina 1/20 Hellen Rc Model Boat KitRostocker It Tall Ship 'mm Amerigo Vespucci' 1/1250 Model ShipHansa No Bulk Carrier "ms Oslo" 1/1250 Model ShipUss Constellation 42" Wood Model Ship Large Scaled American Sailing BoatDumas Miss Thriftway Hydroplane Model Kit1910's Cast Iron Boat Tail Racer / Race Car Toy By A. C. Williams Toy CompanyHubley Speed Boats 1930s Big Bang Cannon Tank Boat Gun Turrets New Old StockConstructo Wooden Model Ship Boat Parts From Mayflower KitRoman Bireme 1967 Model From Aurora, Never Assembled, W Inst, Missing 2 PcSantisima Trinidad 53" Wood Model Ship Large Scaled Spanish Sailing BoatCarnival Model Ship Cruise Line Tropicale