For thousands of years, ships have represented the spirit of adventure and the cornerstone of global industry. Before the steam age and long before the discovery of electricity, wind-powered ships were the only practical means we had of moving goods across landlocked countries and continents.
Even today, millions of tonnes of cargo are shipped every year on gigantic container ships, making them an enduringly invaluable pillar of civilisation.
However, of the millions of ships built over the years, there is perhaps only a handful that have truly earned their positions in pop culture. From ships built as war machines to those built to ferry passengers from one side of the Atlantic to the other, these are the classic ships that many model shipbuilders still turn to when they are looking for inspiration.
The RMS Titanic
Even before the 1997 James Cameron epic, the Titanic was the most famous ship in history. Or should that be infamous? Beyond the iceberg, however, it remains a stunning feat of engineering. It was the largest and fastest passenger vessel at the time and even today would be a true sight to behold.
While the ship itself remains lingering at the bottom of the North Atlantic, many professional model makers have replicated the majesty of the Titanic in the 100+ years since it tragically sank.
The gigantic and intimidating dreadnought that was the scourge of the British Navy during the Second World War, the 823 foot long Bismarck was a true beast. Even though the vessel was severely damaged in a 1941 battle, it actually survived the battle and remains largely intact to this day.
When it comes to classic wooden ships, there can be few as iconic as Lord Nelson’s Victory. A wooden warship that remains one of the largest ever conceived, it saw plenty of action during the end of the 18th century and sailed into legend after the battle of Trafalgar. The ship was thought long-lost, but was restored by the British government in the early 1920s and has been on display at the naval museum in Portsmouth ever since.
Whilst it might only have been a relatively humble 33 metres long, the Mayflower is a cultural icon for one special reason – it’s the ship that brought the first pilgrims over to the United States. The ship is a relatively common wooden vessel for the time, but the history behind it is so deep that you can’t help but be inspired by it.
The Santa Maria
Finally, this is another ship that is perhaps more famous for its achievements than for its looks. Indeed, many model ship makers today still call it one of the ugliest historical ships. This is the ship, however, that Christopher Columbus used to sail to the new world and could almost be considered a precursor to the Mayflower.
The ship made that historic voyage four times, but eventually ran aground in 1492 and was torn down to be rebuilt as the “La Navidad” (a ship named for the Spanish word for Christmas as the Santa Maria was wrecked on Christmas Day). Four complete replicas of the ship have been built since and as there are no exact records, model builders today are still often at odds over what exactly the Santa Maria ever really looked like.