The corporate history of Revell is one of great passion that began in America in the 1940s. Founded in 1943 in California by Lewis H. Glaser, a California entrepreneur. He originally founded a plastics moulding firm called Precision Specialties in Hollywood. The company made a variety of products contracted for different companies.
One of the first toy related products were HO scale train sets, including locomotives and a variety of cars along with buildings. They also produced other plastic toys, including furniture and accessories for dolls houses. The toy line was later marketed under the brand name Revell. Reportedly, the name Revell came from the French word reveille meaning ‘new beginning’. The Revell logo at the time has not changed a great deal compared to today's design.
Revell Inc. started up production in Venice, not far from Los Angeles and in 1947 the company’s founder, Lewis H. Glaser, had the idea of assembling a scale model car from several plastic parts and that was the birth of Revell plastic model kits.
In 1956, the German subsidiary, Revell Plastics GmbH, was founded in Bünde, West Germany. Just one year later, the company’s headquarters were relocated to the neighbouring town of Bünde, where Revell is still based to this day. Initially, only kits imported directly from the USA and Britain were sold in Germany and neighbouring countries.
During the 1970s, this company started developing and manufacturing its own lines of model kits independently and outside the direct control of Revell, USA. These models were imported into the United States and some of the newer kits earned a reputation for high quality than its US counterparts. However, the ‘German’ kits are now only produced in Eastern Europe or China under the German Revell label.
Once known as Revell AG, the German company has now changed to the legal form of GmbH & Co. KG. Revell Germany became independent after its formal separation from Revell-Monogram LLC in September 2006, but was purchased by Hobbico early in 2012, bringing both Revells back into the same company once again.
While separate, the German products continued to be advertised on the American company web site, and its logo was almost identical to that of Revell in the United States. When it comes to total revenue, the German company ranked somewhat above the former American parent company.
Other 1950s offerings
In 1953, a replica of the battleship USS Missouri was produced by Revell, its first casting beyond the British Gowland models. Reportedly, their models of U.S. Navy warships were so accurate, that in 1960 it was discovered that the Kremlin had purchased a significant number of different models to help fill in blank spots in their intelligence regarding the design of American warships.
Revell's ‘History of Automobile Racing’
As early as 1956, the enthusiasm for the new hobby grew and in the later 1950s, Revell began making more automotive related models. Beside jet engines, car engine models like the Chrysler Slant-Six were produced. Car models tended toward a more global selection than AMT or other American plastic model makers, with many European brands produced including many British makes. One interesting offering came about with a collaboration with AMT making the 1955 and 1956 promotional Buick. The models were atypical for the time in that there was full chassis detail, and bodies were cast in several pieces. Revell made these specifically built-up for showroom display. Another interesting kit offering related to pop culture was the 1956 Lincoln Futura concept car - a vehicle that, without-this-world bubble windows, would eventually become George Barris's Batmobile.
The Kustom 1960s
Starting in the late 1950s, model kits began to veer away strongly from stock presentations and focus on customising, hot rodding, and racing. The 1960s solidified this direction with almost infinite variations in how a kit could be built. This trend showed both the extensive new marketing reach of the hobby as well as the pervasive individuality portrayed in American car customising.
Model companies hired big name customisers to create new and striking designs. Just as AMT had hired George Barris and Darryl Starbird, Revell hired Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth around 1962 as their new stylist and later, Monogram would hire designer Tom Daniel.
At this time, Roth created the bubble-glassed ‘Beatnik Bandit’ (later made even more famous when produced by Hot Wheels) and the double engine ‘Mysterion’ to name a few. Apart from wheeled wonders, arguably his most famous creation was ‘Rat Fink’, an anti-Mickey Mouse figure. It was reported that in 1963 Revell paid Roth 1 cent for every one of his model kits sold, totalling $32,000.
Then there were Slotcars!
In the early to mid-1960s, slot car racing became a fad and like many other companies Revell enter the market by using its plastic model car bodies with a chassis and running gear.
Revell began producing 1:32 and 1:24 scale slot cars in 1964 with the introduction of the Shelby Cobra. The Shelby Cobra's classic styling, muscle car prowess and crowd-pleasing domination on the 1:1 racing circuits made it a natural for slotcar racing. Revell and other manufacturers seized the moment and made the Cobra one of early slotcar racing's most popular models.
At the time, Scalextric and Monogram were the market leaders in the early days, however Revell was close on their heels with the introduction of bestselling slotcar racing sets like the popular four lane 1:32 Americana set featuring the Ferrari 250, Mercedes Benz 300SL, Corvette Sting Ray and Aston Martin DB5. Revell was also quick to offer 1:24 slot cars, normally a scale found only in commercial raceways, for home use.
In 1965 Revell acquired International Raceways, planning high grade race tracks that could fill whole rooms but unfortunately competition was too keen and the slotcar hobby was already starting to decline in influence. Slotcar kings like Chicago's Strombecker would eventually be purchased by Tootsietoy and end up making simple plastic cars and other toys.
By 1967, Revell's experiment in the hobby had racked up a nearly half a million dollar loss. Revell decided to stop the production of 1:24 scale slot cars. The last 1:24 Revell slotcar of the boom-era rolled off the Revell assembly line in 1968.
Money troubles and Monogram merger
About 1980, as the modelling hobby was weakening in America and sales of plastic kits plummeted, Revell was purchased by French toy company, Generale du Jouet (also known as CEJI), which hoped to take advantage of Revell's European division and presence. Still, Generale du Jouet was having financial troubles of its own, and by 1983 Revell was again spun off.
In 1986, after declining profitability in a new era of video games and cable television, Revell was purchased by Odyssey Partners of New York and folded into Monogram Models of Morton Grove, Illinois (which Odyssey had purchased earlier that year). Its plant in Venice was closed and all its usable assets were transferred to Monogram's Number 2 plant in Des Plaines, Illinois. The new company then moved to Northbrook, Illinois. Due to the world-wide name recognition, Revell has become the primary brand name used on many of its kit lines and after years of seeing both names on the logo, the Monogram name is now again portrayed separately. The company was then headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, United States.
In 1994 Revell-Monogram was purchased by Hallmark Cards as part of its Binney and Smith division (the owners of famous Crayola crayons). This relationship lasted for thirteen years and on May 2, 2007, Hobbico, Inc. announced it had acquired American Revell-Monogram, LLC, corporate owner of the Revell name (Dodson 2007). The Revell name now stands alone in the company logo, without the Monogram name, though Monogram still exists as an important line of models in the Revell stable. Hobbico also acquired Revell of Germany in 2012, reuniting the two brands under one banner, but often models sold in the U.S. show Revell Germany as the parent with Hobbico nowhere labelled.
Forty years later, Revell has taken control of Monogram and has re-emerged as a quality slotcar manufacturer. No longer offering racer applied decals with their cars, today you'll find the race specific graphics are now printed on the models. Due to modern design methods, the slotcar models also have better detail in areas such as windshields, lights, rims and tires.
Today’s Revell slotcar models are designed in the United States but made in China. The designers at Revell-Monogram have obviously taken a close look at Carrera slotcars, as the new Revell-Monogram chassis share a similar design.
Equipped with a sliding, adjustable traction magnet, todays Revell slotcar chassis' has a more modern approach to the chassis itself. Revell slotcars have a traditional inline chassis but some now sport a more forward-mounted can motor to allow space for a full interior complete with a driver!
Today's Revell slotcars, while beautiful, are unfortunately not as competitive as their Scalextric, Carrera or Fly brethren. However they do have a detailed appearance with right down to the tires (the Shelby Cobras sport blue lines and Goodyear print).