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Why DO You Build Models?
June 1957 American Modeler

June 1957 American Modeler

June 1957 American Modeler Table of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.

This is a very interesting article in part because its author rues the disappearance of opportunities for "today's" kids to participate in types of exploration and creativity common in yesteryear --- and that was in 1957!!! Nowadays we lament about kids' faces and hands being glued to cellphones, video games, and computers all day. "... And the new nature is the world of manufactured articles, and even manufactured games and pleasures." It just goes to show that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Here is Peter. E. Siegle's assessment based on his research commissioned by Monogram Models.

Why DO You Build Models?

Why Do You Build Models? - Airplanes and Rockets

One of the interesting things about American life is the manner in which we tend to develop trends which permeate the whole society, and which embrace all levels, all classes, men, women, children, boys, girls, rich, poor, etc.

Probably the most significant example of this aspect of our culture is that which is considered recreation or leisure.

A first aspect of American attitude toward recreation and leisure is the way in which it tends to be a leveling off process.

A second aspect is the feeling that leisure ought to be constructive, a tendency which stems from the old American puritan tradition which we ell share regardless of our origin as Americans.

A third is the egalitarian spirit manifest in the great American dream as seen in the earliest days, throughout our history, in Jacksonianism, Populism, New Dealism, and even in BBD&O-ism, the belief that anybody can be anything he wants to be, and Horatio Alger told us so.

A fourth is a curious paradox: in a country in which it is clearly believed that each of us can be what he wants, there is a constant push toward being a specialist, a situation which forces us into a search for outlets other than our work for the satisfaction of needs and desires related to being so many things besides an "economic man. Specialization is a condition which narrows, pinches, and confines a man, limiting him severely in a very important percentage of his daily waking hours. It binds him to a bench, a typewriter, a set of books with lines and figures, a drawing board, or n'impotre quoi. Gone are the days when a man was a master mechanic, the machinist who could fix anything. Gone are the days when a football player plays many positions, or even both offense and defense (I forgot, they changed the rules back).

Fifth, we are a mass production people. Our greatest expertness lies in making possible assembly line production, not only of goods and materials, but also of ideas, styles, mode of dress, and even recreation.

Sixth, individualism . . . as manifest in economic or social life . . . is becoming more difficult to express. And it is the great conflict between conformity and individualism which constantly gnaws at each of us. We yearn for opportunities to plan and execute, to see things through from beginning to end. We yearn for the opportunity to be an individual without facing the possibility of failure and ridicule in the public view. Hence controlled creativity as made possible in the model kit, helps make this possible.

Seventh, we are a country which has moved quickly and consistently from the rural to the urban to such a degree that much of our feeling and our value system is conflicted, partly reveling in the joys of city life, and partly yearning for the bucolic frontier.

Eighth, we are a people who refuse to grant honor and status to age, a condition which makes each of us reticent about growing old, and causes us to cling as long as we can to our youth, and to yearn for our lost youth when we feel that we have moved over the hill.

Ninth, Americans are constantly being faced with a new and relatively unheard of phenomenon, increasing leisure which within the puritan tradition cannot be wasted, must be constructive, and even perhaps utilitarian.

Tenth, still another phenomenon in the American attitude toward leisure and/or recreation is that, whenever possible, it should be educational. This goes for reading (and accounts in part for the tremendous popularity of historical novels) and so-called hobbies. Hence, the more they can be related to real life and real events and real things, the more likely are they to be considered valuable and desirable activities.

Eleventh, on the other hand, they must be compensatory, satisfying needs which are not assuaged in the normal course of daily life.

This means frequently that they are successful when they offer vicarious experiences, often even in the realm of fantasy.

The foregoing observations are the result of thinking which arose from interviewing some 268 individuals, in groups and singly, about their attitudes towards hobbies in general, and towards handwork at home and model-building in particular. How these observations are related specifically to model building will be seen as we take some of them up more-or-less seriatim in this section.

We interviewed 61 females and 207 males. They represented all social classes, including individuals and families of ditchdiggers, white collar workers, skilled workers, college professors, executives of large and small corporations, and unskilled factory workers and their families. The sample would be considered, for this purpose) highly representative since the interviewees not only represented a variety of socio-economic levels, but also different age groups (children, adults, and old people) and people from different regions of the country, and a very few foreigners.

In making the following analysis, unless otherwise indicated, we shall be talking about the men and boys of the sample, because the females turn out to be a rather special case which we shall deal with separately or at least in another context.

As far back as any of us can remember, Americans have had hobbies; games we played, things we did with our hands which were part of our leisure-time activities, and as children were part of our play. Girls had their dolls, the dresses they made, etc. . . . , and the men had their whittling, their model-building (remember the ships in the bottle, the knitting of the British and "New Bedford sailors), their mechanical gadgets; women, their knitting and weaving.

Time was when we really looked upon these activities as recreation, as part of the need for breaking away from the hum-drum activities of our long daily tasks. They were things which we wanted and needed to do, and we did them alone, as individuals, and did not feel the need for having them institutionalized and commercialized for us. A piece of wood and a knife were always available, and when you had them in your hand, you were in the act of creation ... AND recreation. Today much of this is gone. The knife and the wood are not so easily available. And our hobbies are packaged for us.

Why Do You Build Models? - Airplanes and RocketsThe reasons are many.

• We have more time to spend in recreation and leisure and paradoxically less of nature to deal with in the ordinary pursuit of our daily lives.

• Except when we are on the move, traveling in our can or by fast public transportation, we are confined to passive or spectator leisure rather than active leisure. Even in the home, we have radio and TV to entertain us, assuage our boredom, and reduce the tension of so many frustrations in our working life.

• The further away we get from the soil the more we long to do things with our hands.

• The more we long to do things with our hands, the less available the opportunity in the urban environment. Hence, somebody has to make it possible for us, and packaged hobby seems to be a natural answer to a peculiar dilemma, the individual in the mass society.

In discussing hobbies with people one becomes easily aware of some of the very specific needs which are being met by certain sedentary yet active experiences ... in the home . . . in the family

• .. and often alone.

For example, contrast the meaning of essentially the same activity for the parent and the child. In working with a model, the father may be keeping young, while the son is weaving a wonderful tapestry of adult adventure. The father is reminded of his childhood dreams; the son is having his, dreaming of being • heroic adult, flying a jet plane to everlasting glory. His is much less the joy of building than it is the adventure associated with the finished product For father the building is often more important.

Adults expressed several reasons for enjoying working with models:

1. It is something parent and children can enjoy together. Even though each age level enjoys the experience at a different level of complexity: the exact same model seems often to have different levels of meaning.

2.  It makes possible active, creative leisure at home. Fathers indicated that working on models has been a point of contact which otherwise had been unobtainable, and that it managed to involve even the female members of the family although they were not necessarily engaged directly in the process.

3.  Apartment dwellers pointed out that working on models made it possible to work with their hands at constructive tasks at home where they could not have their own work bench or complicated machinery, or crude working area.

4.  As one parent put it, "when I work with my son at a model, it has one meaning for him and another for me, and we both enjoy it ... like when we read Winnie the Pooh and Stuart Little together" ...

5.  Models are often a compensation for childhood frustrations. Many parents simply enjoy working with the things they did not or could not have when they were children. It's very much like the electric train which fathers buy for their first sons much earlier than the son can can enjoy it, because the father wants the son to have the train the father never had, or he still wants to play with it himself.

6.  For children living in the city and in the well-ordered suburbs of modem America, model building becomes a substitute for the nature games of childhood in the country or the open spaces. Many parents recalled that as children they made things that were in the streets, and in the fields where they played. They remembered roasting "spuds," making bubble pipes and less innocent pipes out of acorns and torn cobs, carving chestnuts and cherry wood, whittling, etc. . . . Such childhood adventures are gone today. The trees aren't there. The days are busy with an kinds of schooling and organized play. Our relations with nature are formalized. And the new nature is the world of manufactured articles, and even manufactured games and pleasures. This  is part of the "urban pastorale" which replaces Nature with a manufactured experience much more readily available in the urban setting. Part of that pastorale is the manufactured game or hobby kit or model-building set.

7.  Model building is also a substitute for the world of adventure represented by the things for which the models stand. In a world of invention; and discovery, the making of the model, working with it calls up all kinds of vicarious adventure, the jet plane, the rocket ship, the four-master; adventures none of us can ever really know, yet for which we yearn. It's like reading sea stories or stories of great masculine heroes whom we emulate in our mind's eye.

8.  Model building satisfies the need for wholeness or completion, a rather important need in a society such as ours where more and more people are becoming so specialized in their economic life that they rarely ever see the whole of what they are working with. This is true of men who work on the assembly line in the plant and those who are the white collar workers as well. The opportunity to see projects through from the idea stage to the ultimate realization is given to only a few individuals in our society, a condition which did not prevail in the days of the artisans and master workers. What model building does for these people is make it possible for them to enjoy a full act of creation even tho it comes in a kit. Each person applies his own degree of perfection and apparently applies also his own special artistic stamp in the final analysis. This is not to suggest that model building is a substitute for all creative activity. But it serves well in its "need for wholeness" function.

9.   Model building satisfied the need for working with something tangible which can be started and finished within a reasonable and foreseeable length of time. And apparently there are models to meet the needs of each degree of attention span. from the very simple, solid-form, four-piece job suitable for the limited attention span and coordination of the very young, to the extraordinarily complex models of the specially gifted. Most often in our sample, those who felt this need most were the ones who dealt with abstractions in their daily activity or were of the white collar occupational group.

Why Do You Build Models? - Airplanes and Rockets10.  Many persons indicated that one of the reasons they enjoyed working with models with their children was the challenge of dealing only with the material at hand, and not having to invest in complicated tools and equipment. One could start quite readily at his own level of acquaintanceship with the material, usually self-contained. Thus was eliminated something of the fear of failure that dogs us when we face the unfamiliar.

11.  There is a point of separation between the sexes in the family when the males are working with models. This seems to be an area which has been assigned to the "men." The women (who often are quite capable of performing the very delicate and artistic tasks required in model-building) are quite insistent about keeping a hands off policy, and show no interest in doing those things. The men on the other hand accept the separation as being a clear line of difference. It has been culturally determined as a masculine realm, and is one of the few remaining activities that are strictly for the boys. In asking one interesting question, I learned that more women are interested in going to baseball games than they are in working with models. None of the women felt at all interested in the latter, whereas a number of them are interested in the former, an activity which not very long ago was strictly for the boys. The point here is that although women have the necessary s1cills, they are uninterested. And MEN WERE PRONE TO INDICATE THAT THEY LIKED HAVING AN ACTIVITY WHICH WAS THEIRS ALONE. They liked doing what women don't do because more and more they find fewer activities at work or in recreation where this is true.

12.  Model building gives some a feeling of belongingness and control. This was noted by men who felt that so much of their lives and activities are controlled by others. Working with models, like other constructive activities, makes them feel that they are in charge of the situation. They make the major decisions and see the project through from beginning to end. It is a relief nom recreation which is so often as spectator, passive, and makes. you feel on the outside.

13.  As many said, "It's good indoor fun." It is a welcome change. Those who work with their hands sometimes enjoy more delicate work. Those who push a pencil enjoy working with their hands. Some of those who feel they do uninspired work on their jobs feel that working with models is a change from the dull routine to something educational. They feel they learn something about the thing they are building. For example, people who have never seen a jet plane, feel they know something about them after they build a model. This, it was felt, was especially true of children.

14.  It is apparent that many men enjoy working with models because they feel young when they do so. Some feel young again; have never grown up; others feel that it is an excellent way to achieve a better capacity for communicating with their sons, by having a common level of discourse stemming from a common experience with something outside themselves. American men have to feel young. Some men feel younger when they can still enjoy things associated with youth and which are nevertheless not an unmeetable challenge.


Why Do You Build Models? - Airplanes and Rockets

Why Do You Build Models? - Airplanes and Rockets

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Even during the busiest times of my life I have endeavored to maintain some form of model building activity. This site has been created to help me chronicle my journey through a lifelong involvement in model aviation, which all began in Mayo, MD ...

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