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Co-Founder of Monogram Models Dies

Monogram plastic model kit
A collection of Monogram plastic model kits from the EAA AirVenture Museum archives. The exhibit “Little Wings...Big Dreams: Sport Aviation in Miniature” is on display through January 2012.

Monogram plastic model kit
A Monogram Mosquito plastic model. The model was offered in varying sizes.

Bob Reder
Robert Reder holding an autographed Monogram F-18 kit. Courtesy: Glenview Hangar One Foundation

March 3, 2011 —It started with balsa wood, some music wire, tissue, and a rubber loop: It was his first model airplane. At 13 years old, Robert Reder had created a flying toy that would later launch an industry. After high school Reder became a draftsman for a company in Chicago that made aircraft identification models during World War II. That experience eventually helped him launch his own model company, Monogram Models, which later merged with rival Revell Inc. Reder died of natural causes on February 20. He was 93. 

Static aircraft modeling became widespread following Charles Lindbergh’s successful Atlantic crossing in 1927. Wood models were the most popular and they varied; some only had a set of plans and some blocks of wood others had pre-cut and carved parts. In those early kits, the intricate details such as landing gear and propellers were the most difficult to make.

In the 1930s the FROG (Flies Right Off Ground) model company started experimenting with a plastic material called cellulose acetate, which it used as replacement parts for those that broke on its wooden models. As they perfected the material they started selling plastic models under the Penguin brand (a flightless bird) to differentiate from their flying models.

Following WWII wooden kits would lose out to plastic as polystyrene and injection molded plastic kits launched an entire industry. Afix (United Kingdom) and Revell (United States) were the leading manufacturers. Reder’s Monogram would compete with Revell starting in the 1960s as they both diversified into naval craft and other military vehicles.

Read Robert Reder’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune

Monogram kits were known for their moving parts, including spring-loaded ejection seats, moving gun turrets, and, on the RB-66A model, the ability to drop a tactical nuke. Monogram was purchased in the 1980s by an investment group that later purchased Revell and both of the companies’ operations were consolidated at Monogram’s facilities in suburban Chicago.

Over modeling’s 70-years evolution, an entire aftermarket industry has developed to include specialized tools, paints, decals, resins, photo-etched cockpits, and engines. Other brands including O-Lin, Hawk, Lindbergh, Aurora, Heller, and Renewal have also produced model kits.  Two Japanese manufacturers that emerged in the 1960s, Hasegawa and Tamiya, have dominated the market ever since.

At EAA’s AirVenture Museum the exhibit “Little Wings...Big Dreams: Sport Aviation in Miniature” highlights the world of aircraft modeling, including wood, paper, metal, and plastics.  The exhibit, located in the Gilbert H. Hansen Photography Gallery, has just been extended through January 2012.

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