The name Monogram is synonymous with quality in model kits. The founders, Jack Besser and Bob Reder, had a clear vision of what constitutes an excellent model kit and how to transform that into mass production. Not surprisingly, Monogram proved to be a profitable company for many years.
Early Wood and Plastic Kits
In 1945 the company was producing stick/tissue aircraft kits and solid wooden kits of ships and cars. The ship line consisted of a US Battleship, Destroyer, Cruiser, Aircraft Carrier and Landing Craft.
Monogram seized the initiative in plastic early and produced what we would call multi-media kits. The flying and non-flying kits were called “Speedee-Bilt” and were introduced in 1949. The pre-printed balsa parts and plastic details made for excellent scale or flying kits via rubber power of Jet-X jet engine. Flying models include the Piper Cub, Aeronca, Monocoupe, Ercoupe, Kaydet, Long Midget Mustang, Cessna Seaplane, Spad XIII, P-51, F-84, Navion, F6F, F-86, F4U, P-40F, F9F and P-47N.
The non-flying B-17, B-24, B-25 and A-26 were among the finest scale models in their class and came with paints. These are highly prized among collectors today. The popularity of the Speedee-Bilt line is such that it survived till 1957 - well after plastic models were dominate.
In 1952 Monogram introduced “Superkits”. These contained pre-carved balsa parts with numerous plastic parts such as bombs, clear canopies, landing gear, etc. These made accurate scale kits and were on a smaller scale than the Speedee-Bilts, around 1/60. Kits available included P-51, F4U, F-84, Mig-15, F-86 and P-40.
Speedee-Bilt and/or Superkits models were issued in gift sets and are considered very rare. Below is the Little Air Force Assortment, which contains two of both kits.
1950s-Plastic Kit Production-Four Star Plastikits
Production began in 1954 with kit P1 “Midget Racer” and P2 “The Hot Rod” and quickly expanded to boat kits (P3 Hydroplane) and the first aircraft, P6-98 B-26 Invader .
All kit numbers initially had the prefix “P” (for plastic) although this was changed to “PA” (airplane), “PC” (car), “PB”(boats) and “PD” (missiles) very shortly. Although the molds and box art remained the same, some “P” and “PA” kits have differences. The PBY, for example, has rubber wheels in the “P” kit and regular plastic wheels in the “PA” kit. Price extensions were used from the beginning. The logo used at this time was the “Four Star”, so called because of the four stars above the word Monogram, as shown on this F-105 Thundercheif.
Subtitles below “Monogram” but in the logo include “Four Star Plastikit”, “The Quality Name for Hobby Kits” and “Hobby Kits for Family Fun”. Sturdy cardboard “hard boxes” were used with lithographed “slicks” from the onset because of the experience gained with Speedee-Bilt kits. Most new Plastikits were shrink wrapped with cellophane at the factory. This is unusual as Revell and Aurora were still relying on small sections of tape on the two long sides to hold the box top on. Today, perfectly intact early cellophane is rare, as it became very brittle with age, which made it shrink and split. Kits that did not split often have concave box tops from the inward pressure. Early Gift Sets were issued in the mid 1950s. Some are in special boxes such as “Military Wheels” while others are specially designed sleeves that held existing boxes, like the “Jet Air Force” Gift Set. The famous and unique “Air Power”, “Missile Arsenal” and Willy Ley Space kits were released during this time, with the legendary motorized “Phantom Mustang” and Cyclone Engine kits.
Later in the mid 1960s came the great 1/72 B-52 with short-lived “Jet Sound”. This kit is still in production today, minus the “Jet Sound”.
1960s-Blue Box Issues
The Four Star logo and it’s variants was used into the mid 1960s. At that time the “Blue Box” was introduced. This is simply a blue bordered box with the artwork inside the boarder.
Some artwork remained the same from the first issue while others changed. “PA” prefixes continued to be used with part numbers till Mattel bought Monogram in 1970. At this point, “PA” and the new four digit number can be found, and eventually only the four digit number. For a brief time the Mattel Logo was present with the Monogram logo. One of several interesting kits from this era is the 1/24 “Phantom Huey”. This large kit features a completely visible UH-1 with operating main/tail rotors and sound. The B-52 was issued at this time with the dramatic “Viet Nam” box artwork.
1970s-White Box Issue
There was another major box art change in 1973. The “White Box” issued featured a white background with a photo of the built model. “PA” prefixes and price extensions were completely dropped in favor of the four digit part number.
Monogram acquired the Aurora molds in 1977 and released the DVII, SE5, Sopwith Camel, 747, DC-10, 727, 737, A-7, F-111, Skipjack, U-Boat, I-19 Sub, Independence, Forrestal, Saratoga and several automotive kits. The rare 1/48 Visible B-17 was issued during this time. This unique kit has a left hand clear fuselage half to show the detailed interior of the model.
In 1977 Monogram returned to “Action Box Art” with the 1/48 B-17. Other kits, such as the B-29 and B-36 followed. In the 1980s Monogram issued special release box art for the TV show “Call To Glory”, the movies “Days of Thunder” and “Rambo”. Special issues for the Confederate Air Force, Heritage Editions and Young Astronauts were seen, the later including the rare 1/72 B-52 with X-15.
In 1986 Odyssey Partners purchased Monogram. There was a certain amount of mold swapping with Revell as Odyssey had purchased them at about same time. Monogram and Revell were still marketed under their respective names, but all production for both companies was done at Monogram’s Morton Grove, IL plant. In about 1994 Monogram began marketing “Pro Modeler” in a direct attempt to compete with international kit manufactures. These models featured extra details and reference work. Some, such as the B-17, featured photo-etched details and optional parts for rare versions. In 1991 Odyssey purchased the Matchbox tooling from Lesney and mold swapping occurred between all three but the Matchbox name was not used. In 1996 Maquire and Partners bought the plastic kit lines and within a year combined the names to make Revell/Monogram. This naming continued till 1999 when they were again divided. Alpha International purchased the entire line in 2001 and continues to produce the kits under two names. It is expected that mold swapping will continue.
Monogram did market kits and lease molds internationally. In the 1970s several were leaded to Bandai and Necomisa. Marusan copied several Monogram molds. These copies have turned up as Nichimo, RSL, UPS, Idea and Arc En Ciel kits. Pegaso and Necomisa (Mexico) has issued the old Monogram OS2U, T-28A, AT-6, SNJ, HU-16, F-80, etc and some Aurora releases such as the DC-10 and 727. The Starfix (Israel) UH-1and Spitfire Mk IX are made from the original Four Star molds. Monogram-Europe also distributed kits for two years in the early 1990s.
Many thanks to numerous KCCers and John Burns for their detective work. Without you this would have been impossible.