On December 29th, 1964 – forty-eight years ago today – the original filming model of the U.S.S. Enterprise was delivered to the Howard Anderson Company. There, it would be used as the centerpiece for optical effects scenes for use in the pilot episode of what was hoped to be a new television series, Star Trek.
Model maker Richard C. Datin, Jr., who worked for the company and oversaw the efforts of craftsmen Mel Keys, Vernon Sion, and Volmer Jensen, constructed the 11-foot “miniature” from a 1-foot prototype Datin himself built. The prototype and the larger model were of course based on the design created by Star Trek production artist Walter M. “Matt” Jefferies.
After taking possession of the model, Datin would make a few minor adjustments prior to its use during the filming of the original series’ first pilot, “The Cage.” He subsequently would make alterations to the model for the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and again once the show sold to NBC and filming began on the series’ first season.
The model has been on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum since the late 1970s. Originally, it hung in one of the first-level galleries, where it remained until the mid-late 1980s. The first time I saw it up close and personal was in early 1986, at which time I snapped these two pictures with my crappy 110 camera:
After a major restoration, it was displayed as part of a temporary Star Trek exhibit during the mid 1990s. These days, it can be found on display in the lower level of the museum’s main gift store.
The museum also maintains a blog, which includes a couple of features detailing the museum’s first restoration of the model:
There’s also an information page about the model’s history and its current display.
Physical model work for film and television is pretty much obsolete, replaced by computer-generated imagery which allows for the realization of optical effects unimagined at the time of the original Star Trek series. The newer medium has continued to improve with leaps and bounds as technology advances, producing results which at times can be breathtaking. Still, it’s difficult for me to imagine that in forty years’ time–I still plan on being here, continuing to act as an enormous pain in the ass to all around me–I might harbor any feelings for a computer-generated spaceship that rivals the nostalgia I feel for artifacts like the original Enterprise.
Happy Birthday, Big E!