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    

Vintage Live Steam Engine Model Boat Motor Twin Cylinder Tandem Marine ReverseAntique Vintage Sailor Built Wooden Wood Us Navy Tugboat Ship Model BoatAntique Clockwork Gunboat Old Toy Ship Carette ? Marklin ? Bing ? Plank ? BoatSteam Engine Model ? - Ship? Railroad? Vintage 48"' Chris Craft Wooden Model Boat - Built Kit - 48" Long Ahoy!Vintage Rc Model Boat Marine Outboard Engine Motor Control Outdrive R/cVintage Dumas Miss Thriftway U-60 Mahogany Hydro Plane Race Boat Model Kit #130229.5" Long Adumas Rc Model Boat Hull Scarab UnfinishedRare Sutcliffe Tin Clockwork Toy Wind-up Battleship Boat Grenville England 1938Soleil Royal 44" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Historic French Tall Sailing BoatRoyal Louis 42" Wood Model Ship Large Scale Sailing Tall French Boat32" Long Rc Model Boat Kyosho Hi-con Capri Cabin Cruiser For RepairRare Vintage 50s ? Wind Up Tin Toy Metal Boat & Trailer Japan 9 1/2" WorkingVtg. Billing Boats Serie 600 T78 Norden Nr.603 Model Boat Kit/no ReserveBluejacket Shipcrafters Steam Powered 100 Footer 1930 Harbor Tug K1024 1/4" = 1'Vintage Rare Kalistratov K 91 .91 K91 Rc Model Boat Marine Engine Motor R/cCreole Queen By DumasVintage Dumas Trojan F-31 Yacht Wooden Rc Model KitVintage Billing Boats Wasa Ship Kit And Fittings Hardware Kit C. Mamoli Puritan America's Cup Schooner 1:50 Wooden Ship Model KitTestors Miss Budweiser 1977 Hydroplane Champion Boat Model Kit Boxed Sealed1960s Set Of 2 Ideal Motorific Boats In Original CasesVtg Toy Wooden Boats Ito ? Motor Hulls For Parts Old Toy Motors And Boat Parts.Vtg Toy Wooden Motor Boat Hull Solid Wood Old Pond Speed Hand Made Antique. Unbuilt 1977 Testors Miss Budweiser Hydroplane 1/25 Model Boat Kit With BoxVintage Mantua Sergal 1:78 Scale Hms Victory Ship Model In Box Flagship Unbuilt Wooden Model Live Steam Boat Launch Tug Ship Mamod Not Wilesco Saito Weeden Model Boat Steam Engine Ss Mission Capistrano T2-se-a2 Tanker Handmade Wooden Ship Model Scale 1:200Vintage Rc Model Boat Marine Inboard Racing Engine Motor R/c Large Ops .90 11cc?Hawaiian Pilot C3 Freighter Handmade Wooden Ship Model Scale 1:200Saito Steam Engine Y2-drSwift 1805 Virginia Pilot Boat 1:50 Scale Model Artesania Latina Free Ship23.5" Long Rc Model Boat Hull Hydroplane Project Damaged For RepairDry Dock Dockside By Mountford 1:1250 Model Ship HabourAmerican Scout C-2 Cargo Ship Handmade Wooden Ship Model 35"Vintage Model Shipways Wooden Ship Model Of The Brigantine Newsboy Of Boston NrNew Lauck Street Fair American Model: Extremely RareSwedish Naval Ship "wasa 1628" Left Bulwarks Cannon Position Model Kit Huge 1870s Bradley Bliss Mcloughlin Paper On Wood Floor Toy Boat For Christmas!Motorized Sea Harvest Tuna Clipper Tug Boat Plastic Model KitBluejacket Ship Crafters Revenue Cutter Jefferson Davis Ships Model Kit ClipperElidir Woodenmodel Boat KitConstructo Elidir River Thames Steamboat Wooden Model Kit Euromodel Falmouth Wooden Ship Model Boat Kit 1/75 New!Scientific The Sea Witch Clipper Ship Wood Ship Model Kit 171 27 1/4" No ReserveHasegawa Ijn Battleship Nagato 1941 1:350 Scale KitNeptun Gb Ww11 Battleship 'hms Queen Elizabeth' 1/1250 Model Ship1972 / 74 Boeing Pgh-2 Tucumcari Hydrofoil Boat Model Kit Aurora W. Hempstead NyVintage France Classic Wooden Sail Ship Model Kit Le Hussard 1848 1:50 ScaleAmati Galeone Elisiabettiano Xxi Sec. Wood Scale Model Ship KitVintage Model Boat Parts Pieces Lights Accessories Boat Kit FittingsBuddyl Boat Hauler Light Blue Has Real Tonka Boat Included Late 1950s 1960s CoolGrimsby Fragata Inglesa English Frigate Wooden Ship Model Kit Made In SpainWood Ship Model, Swift Virginia Pilot Boat 1805, With Extra's Heller 1/75 "colombus Sailing Ships (set Of Three) 1492-1992" Model Kit # 80870Revell S.s. Argentina Luxury Liner Vintage 1961 Sealed KitU.s.s. Bon Homme Richard Aircraft Carrier Model Kit 1960Vintage 1950's Wooden Speed Boat 16 Inches Long W Evinrude Outboard Motor, BoxVintage 1970s Model Boat Outboard Johnson Motor Works Battery Operated