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    

Model Shipways Ms1850 Hms Bounty Launch Plank-on-frame Wood Ship Kit New Mm32Model Shipways Ms2190 Chaperon Sternwheel Steam Packet Wood Ship Kit, New-mm66Model Shipways Ms2028 Rattlesnake Wood Model Ship Kit, Pob, New Mm44Model Shipways Ms2261 Usn Picket Boat Wood Model Kit, 1/24th Scale, New-mm53Antique German Marklin Ship Battleship Destroyer Boat Tin Toy Rare Vintage 1930's Model Boat / Car Gas Powered Engine / Motor Vtg Rare Evinrude Toy/model Boat Outboard Motor 1950s Big Twin 30 Hp WorkingModel Shipways Ms2033 New Bedford Whaleboat, Plank On Frame, New Mm92Model Shipways Ms2150 Emma C. Berry Lobster Smack Wood Ship Kit, New Mm42Model Shipways Willie Bennett Skipjack Wood Ship Model Kit, New (ms2032) Mm13Antique Ives Patrol Tin Litho Wind-up Ship Boat 14.5" Long & Ltd Toy StampVintage 1930's Gas Powered Mahogany Model Boat / Hydroplane / Pond BoatVintage Evinrude Big Twin Boat Motor 1950s Tested Works WellAntique Ives Tin Litho Wind-up Ship Boat 22" Long & Ltd Toy StampSoleil Royal 32" Model Wood Ship French Wooden Tall Ship Sailing Boat Hms Victory 52" Wood Model Ship Large Scale Sailing Tall British BoatModel Shipways Ms2240 Niagara Wood Ship Model Kit, 1:64th Scale,pob, New Mm67Model Shipways Dapper Tom Baltimore Clipper 5/32 Scale, Ms2003, New Kf56 TgVintage Tonka Toys 1960s-70s Plastic Boat With Pressed Steel TrailerMercator British Passenger Ship 'ss Oriana' 1/1250 Model ShipHms Prince 45" Wood Model Ship Large Scale Sailing Tall British BoatModel Shipways Ms2010 Harriet Lane Gunboat, Solid Hull Wood Ship Kit, New-mm23Cm Fr Passenger Ship 'ss France' 1/1250 Model ShipVintage Outboard Motor Electric Dc Motor Vintage Sterling Models American Scout C-2 Cargo Ship Complete With Fittings SetRevell # 05015 German Submarine U Boat Vii C "wolf Pack" Model. 1:72 ScaleConstructo 80822 1/51 1799 Us Navy Schooner Enterprise Wooden Model Kit Th60 RrCm Gb Passenger Ship 'ss Orsova' 1/1250 Model ShipFinest Large Japanese 2 Masted Sterling Silver Model Ship By Seki Japan W BoxRiva Aquarama 27" Rc Ready - Handcrafted Wooden Motor Boat Model NewNew Dumas Mister Darby ModelFair American, 14-gun Privateer, Kit No 2015Entex Lusitania Model Ship Kit 1/350 Scale 27" Long New Vintage Nip #7002Mamoli Mv53 Css Alabama Steam & Sail Sloop Plank-on-bulkhead Wooden Kit Gs60 RrOld Tin San Coast Guard Patrol Boat W/box *vintage Japan ToyR/c Model Boat HellenSs Central America Ship Of Gold - Handmade Wooden Tall Ship Model New1940-50s Vintage Metal Johnson 30 Sea Horse Electric Toy Boat MotorThe Lindberg Line Electric Motor Powered U.s. Coast Guard Patrol Boat Vintage Fleetline K&o Model Boat For Toy OutboardsC. Mamoli Mv37 Halifax British Schooner 1/54 Scale Wooden Ship No Sails Aa48 RrUnused 1976 Revell Frigate U.s.s. United States Sailing Ship Model Kit H-396Riva Aquarama Speed Boat 35" High Quality - Handmade Wooden Model Boat Vintage Fleet Line Sea Babe Model Toy Speedboat Battery Operated Boat W/ Box!Vintage Flare Craft Battery Driven Model Boat With Outboard Motor1/700 Wave-line / Pit-road Uss West Virginia Bb-48 Pearl Harbor Resin KitMercator Passenger Ship 'ss Liberte' 1/1250 Model ShipBillings Boat HjejlenCm Gb Passenger Ship 'rms Caronia' 1/1250 Model ShipModel Shipways Rattlesnake Ship KitVtg Toy Boat And Trailer Tonka Jeep With The Motor Pond Antique Tin And Plastic Model Shipways Volante Merchant Brig Ship Kit VintageCombat Models 1/72 U.s. Navy S-42 Ss153 "s" Class Submarine Vacuform Model Kit!1/700 Hp Models Uss Vestal Ar-4 Repair Ship Pearl Harbor Resin KitCm It Passenger Ship 'ss Galileo Galilei' 1/1250 Model ShipLimited Time Sale! New Krick 20281 Model Boat Alexandra Live Steam Launch Kit Disney Magic 40" Cruise Ship Model Wooden Ocean BoatChris Craft Dual Cockpit 32" Rc Ready - Handcrafted Classic Speedboat ModelViking Sport Cruiser Yacht 37" Handcrafted Wooden Speedboat Model NewUs Schooner Of War 'hannah" Wood Ship Kit 1:48 Scale