In springtime, most kids are champing at the bit to rush outdoors to enjoy the sunshine, interact with friends, and burn off some seriously pent-up energy. When the weather decides not to cooperate however, alternatives need to be explored.
From the early Twentieth Century to the present, the hobby of model building has been a tonic for the housebound, sometimes actually paving the way for a future in the subject being modeled. Naval architects, automobile designers, and aircraft engineers can often trace the origins of their careers to childhood model building.
The popularity of model aircraft virtually parallels the development of aviation in the early part of the last century, and one of the most successful and long-lived kit manufacturers was the Cleveland Model and Supply Company, founded in 1919. Eleven years later, the business was incorporated, and at its height, employed over one hundred people. The kits were thorough and high quality, consequently developing a world-wide reputation among builders of all skill levels.
Unlike the plastic kits of today, the Cleveland models were constructed primarily of balsa wood, tissue, and metal. Even with elaborate instructions and patterns printed on the balsa sheets, a considerable amount of skill and time was required to produce a decently finished piece. Sharp cutting instruments, noxious glues, and fabric dopes were needed to assemble the Cleveland models; a process that would be quickly outlawed in today’s safety-conscious society. But during construction, the model maker would learn exactly how an aircraft was built, from the individual wing spars, to the fuselage structure, fabric covering, and the eventual finished paintwork. These were not pieces that could be built in a day.
Whole books can (and have) been written on the history of Cleveland models and the remarkable variety of aviation subjects they depicted. Prior to the mass-produced plastic kits currently available, they were the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of model airplanes. Today, there is an enthusiastic collector market for genuine unbuilt Cleveland kits.
When the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum re-opens its doors to the public, be sure to locate the display case near the air racing section on the first floor, where around a dozen Cleveland models are on view, each representing a significant aircraft from the 1930’s. They are built to the highest standard of the model-maker’s art, and personify what is possible when one spends enough time out of the rain.