On December 29th, 1964 – 49 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 to be included 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.
Later, Datin would make a few minor adjustments to the model 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. After an extensive restoration, the model was returned to a 2nd floor gallery in the Air & Space Museum as part of a larger exhibit commemorating Star Trek, which ran between February 1992 and January 1993.
The first time I saw it up close and personal was in early 1986, at which time I snapped these two pictures with one of those old-style 110 cameras. The pic on the left was me standing in front the gallery’s entrance, and the right was taken from an adjacent stairway landing.
After a major restoration, the model 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 visual 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 harboring feelings for a computer-generated spaceship that rival the nostalgia I hold for artifacts like the original Enterprise.
Happy Birthday, Big E!