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The Mother of All Plastic Ship Models-Revell’s USS MISSOURI

As you work on your current plastic kit consider this; there was a time when these prototypical miniatures didn’t exist. At least not in plastic form. How interested would you be in a hobby that offered little in the way of boxed kits, a hobby of sending away for drawings and blueprints, then a trip to a “hobby/toy” shop to purchase pieces of wood, carving tools and powdered glue that had to be mixed in batches? In 1953 a California plastic manufacturer named Lew Glaser took a big gamble in the hobby world. He would borrow money and produce the first plastic injected molded ship model in a start up company. But what ship? The wrong choice would bankrupt his company as tooling represented a huge expense and, even if successful, would take years to amortize the cost of production tooling.

In the summer of 1953 the ship he choose was the US Battleship MISSOURI, site of Japan’s surrender ending WWII. Displayed at a toy/hobby trade show in New York, the ship model “stole the show”. Mr. Glaser’s gamble paid off in spades, his young company had to put on extra shifts to handle the demand. For 61 years the MISSOURI has been a prennial favorite, becoming Revell’s longest running plastic kit. I often wondered how the plastic hobby market would have evolved if Revell’s first model had been a flop. The MISSOURI’s success in the market place encouraged other manufacturers to “invest” in the plastic kit business. And, in Revell’s case, provided much needed money to re-invest in other tooling that produced a wide range of models. Plastic model kits were here to stay.

The Kit

Compared to today’s offerings from Trumpeter, Tamiya, Combrig and others, the Missouri is dated, even “primative” in appearence when built up. Yet it’s a perfect, low cost entry for the novice modeler. I purchased this kit a year ago as my grandson expressed interest in building a model. Well, that “interest” waned and the kit sat on my work bench collecting dust. I decided for sentimental reasons I’d build the “Big Mo”, as it was my first plastic ship model in 1958. Originally my plan was just build it out-of-the-box, with an adults eye for a clean build (I think I used an entire tube of glue on the first one in 1958, a real glue bomb). I also planned in a small way to correct the kit’s “flaws” the biggest being the hull. Revell didn’t receive any help from the US Navy in it’s planning for the kit, the hull below the waterline was a militay secret. So the lower half of the hull was flat bottomed and made a “toy like” appearence, with no propellers or rudders. Most of the detail was molded into the deck (including the superstructure) making it very toylike. I contemplated replacing the entire deck but in this scale fabricating tiny AA guns and other detail was not something I looked forward to. Examining the kit, I decided to fabricate the detail that would improve it’s appearence. If you look at the pre-paint photos, the changes show new 16″ gun barrels, anchor chain, small boats, masts, gun tubs among other changes. I found some old PE railings and figured “what the heck, they’re a little out of scale but would improve the main deck’s appearence”. The ship was painted in it’s 1946 scheme (gray upperworks, navy blue hull) when it sailed around the Med on a good will cruise.

From my standpoint it was a fun build and better looking than my 1950’s “glue bomb”. I wouldn’t place my ship in a model contest as the newer warship kits totally outclass it. But this “dinosaur” led the way to our current high standards of plastic models, no matter what you build. Thanks Lew Glaser for taking a chance, hobbiest around the world are better off for it!

13 additional images. Click to enlarge.

16 responses to The Mother of All Plastic Ship Models-Revell’s USS MISSOURI

  1. Really interesting article Mike, I keep toying with the idea of a warship, my dad served on HMS Victorious so maybe the ancient Airfix offering one day.

  2. I agree…nice job on the narrative, Mike – and a good job with that resin “water” (something I’ve yet to attempt). I’ve only built a half-dozen or so ‘floaty things’, but every once in a while, one will catch my eye. I like this one.

  3. Well done, I re-enlisted aboard the Mighty Mo in Pearl Harbor on our way back from Iraqi Freedom. You have done her proud!

  4. one fine job mike…as all ways

  5. Superb Build!! i have been thinking of building a ship recently, i think after seeing this its gonna be sooner rather than later,
    Nice job Mike,

  6. Really like the ship & enjoyed the history lesson. How did you make the water?

    • Thanks for the compliment, Al.
      The “water” is nothing but a tub of joint compound, found at any “big box” home improvement store. I troweled the compound (using a putty knife) over a piece of pink insulation foam, cut to the size of the ship model. As it “sets up” I added a bit more compound to form the “waves”, with a popsicle stick, it’s really easy. If it gets “messy” it cleans up very easy with tap water. When dry I applied a thin coat (use a model paint brush) of artists’ acrylic Gesso (looks like mayonaise) to seal the joint compound. When dry it was painted with artists oil paint (they make a drying agent for oils that speeds up the drying time from days to hours), using a dark blue for the surrounding waters and lightened with titanium white closer to the boats hull. Then I used a variety of greens and blues with white to represent the waves generated by the action of the hull. Close to the hull I have a hypodermic tube with a piece of brass tube for the “needle” to apply acrylic white paint (unthinned, comes out like toothpaste from a tube) to represent the wash around the hull (this holds the model to the foam base like glue). When dry I apply, by brush, a clear seal to the “water”, usually a high gloss by Liquitex.(all this artist stuff can be found at a craft shop like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or an artist supply shop. I then finish the base with oak strips (from a big box store), glue it to the pink foam with Elmers wood glue, model finished!

      The pink foam is easy to cut, lightweight, and can be landscaped with any type of ground cover. It can be used in any type of diorama, or a simple display like a plane sitting on a tarmac. Just remember the foam can only tolerate a water base glue (like Elmers), most glues eat right through the foam. The best thing about the pink insulation foam is that, unlike a wood base, it DOESN’T WARP over time…it happened to me once, never used a wood base again.. Hope my description helps…

  7. Remember the “Mo” fondly. One of my first plastic models. Put together with K lots of type S glue. From then to now next the Merit 1/200 Hornet.

  8. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Mike! this was also my first plastic ship model (along with the Lexington the same birthday.) (Although my kit had several markings and I built the New Jersey.)
    The build looks great. The cannon barrels are a big improvement as are all the antennae and radar. The decking looks good and what can I say about the base except superb! How about a tutorial for us on making waves?

  9. My first ship as well-eons ago. That blue hull makes it look like a yacht, not a warship, which may well have been the idea after a long war.

  10. Many a Sunday night in the tub as a kid in the late 60’s w/my model kit of the Missouri cruising the “oceans”. Thanks for the trip down memory lane a nice build as well!

  11. Mike, really well done all around. I too had a “glue bomb” of this kit that I built at around age 10-hand painted with bits of pulled cotton painted to look like cannon fire. It was one of my favorite possessions as a {\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252
    } and was proudly displayed my book shelf.

  12. Wow, that post submission sure turned out weird! To finish-Thanks for posting the “Mighty Mo” and bringing back some great memories.

  13. Very interesting story about the history of plastic models, and a good looking model ship, thank you, Mike.

  14. I love clicking on the pictures at the bottom of the page. I discover posts I had missed like these. Nice!

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