Red Ball Ltd – Pioneer HO Kit Manufacturer Since 1939

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

While researching Red Ball Ltd., I came across a unique article that had been deleted from Wikipedia. Fearing that one day the history of this famous kit line would be lost, I began research on this pioneer model manufacturer. Fortunately, the information could be verified through catalogs, model railroading magazines, and Red Ball’s previous owner, MRRW.  The best news came when I was contacted by Robert Newton and Fred E. Newton, grandson and son of M. Dale Newton.  They verified the accuracy of this article and added many facts to it.  To them and all others, I thank you for keeping Red Ball’s history and name alive. AB




Early Red Ball Logo

As of 2010, Red Ball Ltd. has been producing craftsman model railroading kits for over 71 years. Marvel Dale Newton, known better to modelers as M. Dale Newton, founded Red Ball during the 1930s model railroading expansion. Red Ball quickly found favor with modelers thanks to high scale detail, realism and an extensive product line.

Mr. Newton was born on September 28, 1898 in Kansas. By the 1930s, he was a print shop entrepreneur in Los Angeles, California. Coincidentally, this was the time of dramatic growth in the the young scale model railroading hobby. (If you have an interest in this modeling revolution, please see the other article on this website.) Established hobby companies like Megow were successfully issuing rolling stock kits with printed cardstock sides. This type of kit was ideal for those who wanted a high quality constant scale layout but did not have the time, inclination or skills to scratch build it. It is not known if Mr. Newton was a model builder, but this probably seemed like a logical expansion to his existing business. He chose the growing HO scale and launched Red Ball Ltd. in 1939. Early catalogs list his address as 2303 Hyde Park Blvd, LA. The company was the “M. Dale Newton Company” and it appears that “Red Ball HO Trains” was the brand name of the product. The 64 page 1941 Red Ball catalog confirms production of numerous train kits but also custom decals and mailing envelopes, letterhead stationary and calling cards for model builders. Also displayed are electric motors, trackside accessories, rails, spikes, roadbed, switches, operating signals, a very large variety of ‘super detail’ parts and modeling tools. The diversity of the model and supply line after three short years in the business is astounding.

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Sample pages from a rare Los Angeles-era Red Ball Catalog (click photos to enlarge)


Based on the timing, Newton did not invent HO scale but he was certainly in the Continue reading “Red Ball Ltd – Pioneer HO Kit Manufacturer Since 1939”

History of the Hawk “Weird-Ohs” Plastic Model Kits

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By Bill Campbell -Edited by Alan Bussie Google+ profile

When he provided me the information for his biography and Hawk Model Company, Bill was kind enough to write a history of the phenomenal “Weird-Ohs” model kits that he developed. – AB

After reviewing some of the dangling questions voiced on the internet by people wanting to close the circle of the Weird-Ohs, I decided to write this article. I will do my best to finally resolve the Who, What and Why questions that you have articulated on your electronic cyber queries.


“Daddy”, one of the original Weird-Oh figures (Hawk Reissue)

The Weird-Ohs were produced from 1963 forward by the Hawk Model Company in Chicago, IL. Hawk is perhaps the oldest model company in the USA, dating back to 1928. My relationship with Hawk was a close one, as I was usually busy producing box artwork for them. For more information on how I met up with Hawk, please read the biography located on this website. Now I’ll head into what you really wanted to know – about the Weird-Ohs. Continue reading “History of the Hawk “Weird-Ohs” Plastic Model Kits”

A Biography of Artist Bill Campbell – Illustrator For Hawk Plastic Model Kits

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By Bill Campbell and Edited by Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Bill Campbell has had a steady and successful career in commercial artwork and marketing. In modeling circles, he is known for his 250+ box illustrations (mainly for Hawk Models) and as the creator of the eccentric and popular “Weird-Ohs” model line. In one of those random events that you can never forget, Bill contacted me by mail after hearing about the website. Always a big fan of his artwork, I expressed an interest in telling his full story and he was kind enough to furnish this information- AB

Early Years
Bill Campbell was born at Bunker Hill, Mass and his family moved to Chicago three years later. By the time he was 5 years old, he knew that he wanted to be an artist. He was fascinated by modern transportation, and this was often his theme. During his free time, he sketched and photographed the powerful locomotives at Englewood Station and the early air transports at Chicago’s Municipal Airport. He attended a number of south side primary schools and majored in Art and Music at Hyde Park High School. Hyde Park claimed two other personalities from that era – Mel Torme and Steve Allen. Bill was in a band with Mel Torme as the drummer, and knew Steve Allen from his literature class.

A Mountain Class locomotive pounds out of Englewood Station, Chicago
Continue reading “A Biography of Artist Bill Campbell – Illustrator For Hawk Plastic Model Kits”

A Brief History of Marusan – the First Japanese Plastic Model Kit Manufacturer

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

In the USA, Revell, Monogram and Aurora are synonymous with early modeling. However, the name Marusan is equally well known in Japan as the pioneer plastic kit manufacturer. The history of Marusan is not well known outside Japan. I am indebted to John Burns, numerous KCCers and Marusan for this information – without them, this article would not have been possible.

Early History
Marusan’s roots are deep in Japanese toy history. In 1923, Naokichi Ishida founded Ishida Manufacturing. The factory was located in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, which was well known for toy production. Ishida produced toy binoculars and telescopes for the domestic market. Business was good until the late 1930s when raw materials shortages and World War II brought non-necessary production to a halt. Immediately after WWII, toy production was encouraged as a way to economic growth. Metal stamping equipment was plentiful, and the flow of metals resumed as the country rebuilt.

The difficulties of post war production quickly became evident. In many large manufacturing cities, transportation beyond walking or bicycling did not exist and most large factories were heavily damaged or destroyed. Food and materials were difficult to come by and the black market flourished. It was difficult to assemble a team of workers at a factory, and it proved more difficult to keep them supplied logistically. As a result, many companies did not even assemble or finish their goods. Stamping and wood cutting would be done centrally, and painting and assembly would be sub-contracted out. Not surprisingly, this subcontracting was primarily done in residential homes. The factory would deliver the raw materials to the home, and the working members of the family would paint and assemble toys. The completed toys would be picked up and returned to the factory for boxing and distribution. It was in this challenging environment that Naokichi’s sons, Haruyasu and Minoru Ishida, with their business partner Yasuo Arai, founded Marusan in 1947. The brothers had been raised around toy manufacturing and understood the business. Initially they produced what they knew best, optical toys, and sold them wholesale only. They quickly branched out into other tin toys as well. Marusan marketed their good through several names and logos through the years, but the initial logo was based on the name itself- “Maru” means circle, and “San” means three, which refers to the three original founders in 1947.


Marusan Logo

The early success of the company lead to the formal incorporation as Marusan Shoten Ltd in 1950. Continue reading “A Brief History of Marusan – the First Japanese Plastic Model Kit Manufacturer”

Early Plastic Model Kit Development in the USA

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Editors Note: every once in a while you run across someone with exceptional knowledge in a certain field. During an email exchange about older kits, I asked Dave if he would mind writing an article about early kits in the US. Dave’s knowledge has been an education to me, and I hope that you enjoy it as well. Alan Bussie

By Dave Fischer

Who made the first plastic model kit in the USA? One of these three companies- VarneyHawk or Empire- was the first. A later company, O-lin, was significant in early production. We will probably never have an accurate view of the pioneer or the earliest history of the plastic model industry in the U.S. because there was no one innovation that could be described as a starting point. Ideas merged and evolved and eventually came to appear as progress.

The plastic model was not a new idea. In 1934 Dick and Phil Mates, founders of the Hawk Model Company, displayed and sold finished (not kits) plastic models at the re-run of the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair. In the mid to late 1930s and into World War II, FROG in England had made 1/72 plastic kits cast in acetate plastic and usually including some metal parts. At that time in the U.S., plastic casting was expediting the production of many items necessary to fighting the war, including constant-scale aircraft identification models. These models were originally made of wood, each hand-crafted in high school and trade school workshops across the country. These ID models were distributed in great numbers to training and operational bases world-wide. Casting the models in plastic produced larger quantities in less time and with greater uniformity in appearance. Several companies that marketed balsa models before the war were asked to produce ID models in plastic, Hawk Models among them. The Mates brothers quickly adapted casting technology beyond their war production, creating generic propellers for their famous line of solid wood models.

Gordon Varney produced wood and metal model railroad equipment before the war and may have been another business drafted into wartime production. In 1944 Varney produced a wood, cardstock and metal PT boat kit that featured detail parts cast in tenite, an injection molded acetate most often used for tool handles and control knobs of all sorts. At the end of the war, Varney introduced an LST model in the same mixed materials.


First issue Varney mixed-media LST kit @ 1944

Continue reading “Early Plastic Model Kit Development in the USA”

The Elusive Revell Electra…will it ever return?

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Editors Note: I came across this article tucked inside an old Revell Electra kit. It tells the history of one of Revell’s rare and more desirable model kits as well as shedding light on mold modification. The photos have been added. I do not know the original publication source, although it may have been an IPMS magazine. Enjoy – Alan Bussie  Google+ profile

By Lloyd Jones


The first issue of the Electra, the “S” kit H255-98 from 1957

When Lockheed unveiled their model 188 Turboprop Electra airliner, it was heralded as America‘s entry into the jet age and was certainly destined to be an aviation classic. Among those enticed by Lockheed’s promotion was Revell, Inc. of Venice, California, a small company which was known to dabble in plastic models on occasion. With boundless enthusiasm plus the blessings of Lockheed and American Airlines, Revell set about producing a 1/x scale model of the fabled Electra.

Continue reading “The Elusive Revell Electra…will it ever return?”

The Life of a Plastic Model Kit Designer By Bruce P. Byerly

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Editors Note: The appearance of the great AMT XB-70, F7F Tigercat and XB-35 Flying Wing kits was always a surprise to me. They seemed to appear from nowhere – from a company that almost exclusively made car models. Many years later I was fortunate enough to receive an email from Bruce Byerly, the designer of these and numerous other kits. He has been kind enough to write his bio and it is my pleasure to print it. Model designers are where it all starts – and Ihope that this story adds as much to your depth and appreciation of the modeling art as it has mine. AB Google+ profile

I’ve not written this story to brag, not by any means. I’ve had a very wonderful life because of models and you fellow modelers. I thank GOD everyday for the road I’ve traveled. I’ve gone through a lot of would’ve, could’ve, should’ves, but when I do, I look back on all the adventures I’ve had. I’ve been very lucky and blessed.


I was born very young, I’ve been told. It’s been said I saw the first light of day with a hobby knife in my hand. I truly don’t remember.

My father had been a fighter pilot in World War II flying PT-17s, Corsairs and Hellcats, so I was born with a love of aircraft. My Dad got me started building models when I was about 5. One day he brought home an airplane kit and some glue and we jumped in. He saw that I showed an interest, so he took a chance I could build a model and wouldn’t cut my finger off. There were no “snap-together” kits back then but most kits were pretty basic. My first kit was a disaster…the canopy had enough gluey fingerprints on it that you couldn’t really tell what it was. My skills soon improved as I recall a Revell box-scale B-52 that didn’t turn out half bad. The joy of having all these winged things around the house took hold deep inside me and I was hooked. My best friend Gary and I would take weekly trips down to our Ben Franklin store to see if anything new had come in. We grew our thumbnails long so we could slice open the taped boxes, revealing the goodies inside…always careful that ‘ol man Penner didn’t catch us. We’d look inside and if the clear parts were decent, the rest of the kit would be. We had standards, you see.


Revell Box Scale B-52

I remember many a shopping trip to Cedar Rapids, the next biggest town from ours. Continue reading “The Life of a Plastic Model Kit Designer By Bruce P. Byerly”

The HO Scale Model Railroading Revolution of the 1940s

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Few realize that changes near the end of 1930 in model railroading would preview the creation of the modern hobby industry in the 1950s.  It may seem obvious now, but it was impossible to predict in 1938.  My thanks goes to the editors and contributors of early Model Railroading and other early train modeling magazines.  This article could not be written without their historical records.


Late 1940s assembled wood/metal HO craftsman kit

In the 1950s, “Consumerism” revolutionized the United States economy and social life. Two main items pushed the consumerist movement: discretionary income and free time. There had always been leisure time, but the activities that filled it varied. In the 1800s families might play instruments and sing after dinner. In the 1930s, they could gather around the radio for the latest drama series or news. But the changes in consumer buying power would revolutionize the USA in the mid 20th century.

In the 1930s “model building” as a hobby did not even make the top 10 list of boy’s activities. Hobbies were nothing new to America in the 1940s, but they were not mainstream. As early as the turn of the century, many dedicated modelers built flying or static airplanes, ship, train, automotive or other subjects. Basic kits existed, but the majority of these models were built from scratch, which demanded a high talent level developed from years of experience. That changed in the early 1950s. The phenomenon of Continue reading “The HO Scale Model Railroading Revolution of the 1940s”

A Brief History of Revell Plastic Model Kits

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

I would like to thank John Burns and numerous KCCers. Without them, it would have been impossible to compile this information.

In the early 1940s, Lou Glaser, a California entrepreneur, founded an injection molding company. Precision Specialties performed contract work for other manufacturers. In the early 1950s Gowland and Gowland designed the famous 1/32 scale “Highway Pioneers” line of 30 cars, which were the first mass-produced plastic automotive kits. Glaser marketed these for 69 cents through Woolworth Dime Stores and they sold well. Glaser realized that Revell should sell children’s toys, specifically plastic model kits.

The first Revell-made mold was the 1953 USS Missouri, first issued in the narrow box.




The first three aircraft kits followed quickly in one-piece boxes. The F-94C, F7U-1 and F9F-6 were molded Continue reading “A Brief History of Revell Plastic Model Kits”

Monogram Plastic Model Kits – A Brief History

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By Alan Bussie    Google+ profile

Many thanks to numerous KCCers and John Burns for their detective work. Without you this would have been impossible.

Introduction and Early Years 

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 was a well-run company and proved to be profitable for many years. In 1945 the company began producing stick/tissue aircraft kits and solid wooden kits of ships and cars.  Monogram’s very first aircraft was kit number C-1, the Whirlwind – a gas powered control line kit.   The first car kit was the R-1 Hot Shot Jet-Powered Racer.

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C-1 Whirlwind and R-1 Hot Shot (Click either photo to enlarge) 

 The ship line consisted of a US BattleshipDestroyer, CruiserAircraft Carrier and Landing Craft (#B1).


Although the wooden ship line was not expanded, the Jet Races line eventually included the Hot Shot (from above), R-3 Mono-Jet, R-4 Midjet, R-2 Terr-Jet and B-6Aqua Jet (for operation in water)

Monogram seized the injection molded plastic initiative early and produced what we would call multi-media kits.  The legendary line of flying and non-flying kits were called Continue reading “Monogram Plastic Model Kits – A Brief History”