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]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Bing Hand Painted Tin Clockwork ‘union’ Paddlewheel Ferry Boat - Rare Wind UpCorel Sm21 Mystique Wood & Metal Ship Kit New Mercury 200 Tin Speed Race Boat Outboard Motor Engine Toy JapanAafa Folk Art Bat-wing Pond Boat Antique Wood & Tin Whirligig Boat Orig PaintBing Germany 1900s Large Tinplate Warship Boat W/ Clockwork-rare Vintage Dumas S-100 U.s. Coast Guard Utility Boat 29" R/c Wood Model Boat KitLarge Vintage 48" Remote Controll Boat Dual Pittman Engines Model Boat On StandScarce Sun Shine Wood Cruiser Motor Boat Outboard With Original Box Bandai JapanModel Shipways Ms2020 Mayflower Wood Ship Model Kit - NewPro-fi V Twin Overhead Valve Model Engine, Tether Car Model Boat1978 Moki M8 .61 (10cc) Water Cooled R/c Model Boat Airplane Engine. Nice NibMib Dumas Rc Inboard Outboard Gas Electric Motor Wood Speed Boat Cruiser Toy KitModel Shipways Gunboat Philadelphia 1776 1:24 Scale Ship Model Kit (ms2263)Vintage Ideal Owens Flagship Bridge Sedan Wood Cruiser Rc Toy Speed Boat Kit ObScarce Sun Shine Wood Cruiser Motor Boat Outboard With Original Box Bandai JapanModel Shipways Ms2109 Benjamin Latham Wood Ship Kit, New- Mm451 Pair Navigation Bow Side Running Lights Brass Vintage Display Model Boat Royal Louis 48" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Historic French Tall Sailing BoatModel Shipways Charles Morgan Whaling Bark Wood Ship Kit, New (ms2140) - Mm47Early German Arnold Indian In A Boat Tin Litho Wind-up Toy Very Good ConditionSoleil Royal 44" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Historic French Tall Sailing BoatVintage Scientific Wood Ship Uss Kearsarge Model Kit 166 Historic Civil War ShipEvinrude Toy Outboard Motor Big Twin Model Boat Japan Engine Rare Vintage Scarce 13 3/4" Wooden Scale Model Boat Cabin Cruiser Toy Ship Mm Japan BoxedAntique Bing, Carette, German Tin Ocean Liner, Clockwork Boat, 10 Inches.Vintage Toy Boat By Fleet Line, The Sea Wolf SpeedboatPristine- High Performance - K & B 3.5 Glow / Nitro Rc Model Boat Motor Lindberg 70815 1:125 Blue Devil Destroyer Model Ship Ready For Radio ControlNew? Vintage O&r 1hp Gas Engine Army Green Wpullstart &tank Model Boat CarVtg 50's Sterling Wwii Uss Missouri Navy Battleship Wood Model Kit 55" Long!Vintage Mitsuwa Johnson Outboard Toy Boat Motors A/ B 175 Display Box Mint JapanBrand New! Occre Corsair Wood Model Ship Kit.Model Shipways Willie Bennett Skipjack 1:32 Scale Ship Model Kit (ms2032)Model Shipways Ms1850 Hms Bounty Launch Plank-on-frame Wood Ship Kit New Mm32Model Shipways "america Racing Yacht, 1851"-kit # Ms2029New Older Mvvs 21 R/c Marine Nitro Model Boat Engine WboxUnknown Plastic Model Driver And Mercury Outboard For Hydroplane BoatVintage Rico Wooden Model Boat Ss Moby Dick Whaler Battery Operated W/box Works!Revell Franklin D Roosevelt Aircraft Carrier Model Kit Must SeeModel Shipways Ms2261 Picket Boat .. Torpedo Boat That Sank The Ablemarle - NewVintage Wooden Electric Motor Boat Made In Japan #86 R9972 45794.4579 Works!!1/600 Scale Vintage Kit By Airfix S.s. France Ship Plastic Model Kit #s2-198Vtg Tonka Truck Sportsman With Camper And Boat Trailer, Canoe Red/ White 12" Vintage Heavy Lead Ship/boat Ocean Liner Bank Hinged Trap M444 $300 Large 20 ½” Wood Cabin Cruiser Boat Toy For Outboard Owens Chris Craft?Wooden Model Ship Boat Building Parts Rigging Tools Clamps Beads Canvas Sails1930's Vintage Blue Jacket Ship Crafters Kit DoradeOld 13 Inch Vintage Tin Motor Boat Battery Operated By Modern Toys Japan Artesania Latina - Dallas Revenue Cutter New York 1815 Model Kit 1:50 Wooden Scale Model Boat Chris Craft? Ski Runabout Single Row Ship ToyVintage Scientific 1:45 Scale Wooden Robert E Lee Ship Model Kit Steamboat Keystone Vintage C-5 Mosquito Boat Toy Painted Wood & MetalCarette Ernst Plank Bing Marklin Windup Tin Toy Boat Ocean Liner Twin Screw Rare1950s Ohio Art Sand Pail Bucket 157 Boy & Girl In Boat Litho BeachAuthentic Models Victorian Pond Yacht Nautical Ship / Boat / Sailboat ModelSuperior Ww11 Gb Battleship 'hms Queen Elizabeth' 1/1250 - 1/1200 Model ShipHai It Iron Clad Battleship 'rm Italia' 1/1250 Model ShipItc Model Craft Graf Spee Motorized Battleship Near Mint Water LineRevell Model: Jacques-yves Cousteau's CalypsoVtg 30's Gordon Grant Marine Model Co. Wood Ship Kit "joe Lane" #1082 Unbuilt!