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    

Superb "rc Model Boat / Steam Launch" ( Restoration Project )Mamoli Mv24, Friesland, Dutch 80 Gun Wood Ship Model Kit, 1663, Unbuilt Jg ShMamoli Mv46 Black Prince Wood Ship Model Kit 1:57 Scale, Unbuilt Em 26Mamoli Mv53 Css Alabama Wood Ship Model Kit 1:120 Scale, Unbuilt Em 26Mamoli Mv48 Lexington Wood Ship Model Kit 1:100 Scale, Unbuilt Em 26Vintage Aeropiccola Armed Launch Wood Ship Model Kit, Unbuilt Em 26Rc Model Boat A Motor CruiserMamoli Mv50 Newport Laser Cut Wood Ship Model Kit 1:57 Scale, Unbuilt Em 26Mamoli Mv47 Hms Endeavour Laser Cut Wood Ship Model Kit Unbuilt Em 26Corel Sm56 Scotland Wood Ship Model Kit, 1/64 Scale Unbuilt Em 26Japan Friction Ford Fairline Car & Stream Line Speed Boat Outboard Japan ToyAmati 1602 U-47 1936 U-boat Type Vii-b Resin Hull Model Kit 1:72 Unbuilt Em 26Vintage Tin Submarine W22 Ocean Boat Windup Toy With American Flag Artesania Latina Charles W Morgan Whaler 1841 Wooden Model Ship Kit 1:50 ScaleVintage Bluejacket Css Virginia Wood Ship Model Kit Solid Hull, Unbuilt Em 26Soclaine Gr1600 La Recouvrance Wood Ship Model Kit, Unbuilt Em 26Mamoli #mv22 Blue Shadow Wood Model Ship Kit N.i.b.!!!Liberty Dual Cowl Speedboat 1930s Early Antique Tin & Wood Windup Toy BoatAllyn Sea Fury .049 Toy Outboard Motor, Vintage Gas Powered Model Boat Engine.Billing Boats White Star 570 Rc Model Kit - Nib!Revell 1/384 Th Scale Great Eastern Cable Laying Steam Ship ( # H393-498 )Antique Scratch Built 3 Masted Schooner Delrio Model Ship In Case AmericaK&b 7.5 Inboard W/ Prather Exhaust Throttle Marine Engine Rc Nitro Model BoatNeptun Us Ww11 Battleship Bb-55 'uss North Carolina' 1/1250 Model ShipRare Original Vtg Paya Espana Cko Tin Windup Toy Ship Boat W Airplanes NrRare Sterling Unbuilt Model Kit - Emma C. BerryVintage "japan Super 56" Toy Boat Outboard MotorAmati 1422 American Gunboat Arrow Laser Cut Wood Ship Model Kit, Unbuilt Em 26Rare Bluejacket Ship Crafters Unbuilt Model Kit - S-48 Submarine-parts OnlyArtesania Latina Le Hussard 1848 Wooden Ship Model Kit Mib Unbuilt Scale 1/50Vintage Aeropiccola Essex Cross Section Wood Ship Kit, Unbuilt Em 26Vintage Marine Model Uss Gearing Wood Ship Model Kit Solid Hull, Unbuilt Em 26Vintage Fleischmann Ocean Liner Boat Tin Toy, Windup,ship Bing, Carette,Spider Navy Battleship Uss Alabama In 1943 Livery 1/1250 Scale Model ShipSwift Virginia Pilot Boat 1805 Wooden & Brass Model Kit 1:50 Scale In BoxExcellent Vintage Ito Battery Operated G-9 Toy Wooden Boat 1950'sMamoli Uss Constitution Wood Ship Old Ironsides Mib Unbuilt Mv31 Scale 1/93Jep Speedboat Made In France 1930s Early Antique Tin Windup Toy BoatRevell Box Scale Uss Norton Sound Rocket Launcher Ship # H331-169 1955 OriginalItaleri 1/35 Scale Model Boat Kit Schnellboot Typ S-100 German Torpedo 5603Artesania Latina Dallas Revenue Cutter Wood Ship ModelModel Boat Antique 1920s Wood Large Patina Handmade Floating Very-old Beautiful!Amati 1421chinese Junk Laser Cut Wood Ship Model Kit 1:100 Scale, Unbuilt Em 26Model Shipways Wooden Model Ship Kit Gjoa 1872 Artic Exploration Sloop 2012Vtg Marx Midget Boat Tail #5 Race Car Tin Litho Working Wind Up Mechanical Toy Vtg 70's Revell Uss Constitution 36" Long Ironsides 1976 Model Ship Parts SealedSs Norway Cruise Ship 40" - Handcrafted Wooden Ocean Liner Model NewDikar Dandy Ii Tunna Ship Wood Model KitAmati 1403 Egyptian Transport Laser Cut Wood Ship Model Kit, Unbuilt Em 26Revell 34" Long Uss Kearsarge Ship Model Kit # 391-995 (1961 Original)Arcade, Hubley Cast Iron Boat Tail Racer 5 1/4" W/ Nickel Wheels All OriginalUss Texas Bb-35 New York Class Battleship 36" - Handmade Wooden Warship ModelNice Swinging Boats By Hoch & Beckman 1950's German - Worldwide Shipping ModelRare Dumas Co. Unbuilt Model Kit - U.s.s MissouriQueen Mary Cruise Ship 40" - Handcrafted Wooden Ship ModelProboat Recoil Rc Model Boat 17" Brushless Rtr Deep V Parts OnlyArtesania Latina Swift 1805 Virginia Pilot Boat Wood Ship Model Kit 1982 NewVintage Model Shipways Volante Merchant Brig Wooden Model KitSunseeker Predator 62 Yacht Handmade Wooden Boat Model - Convert To Rc