Happy 49th Birthday to the original Starship Enterprise!

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.

CLICK TO ENLARGE (L-R: Richard C. Datin, Jr. Mel Keys, Vernon Sion)

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.

(Click to enlarge.)

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:

Blog.NASM.SI.edu: Restoration of the Starship Enterprise
Blog.NASM.SI.edu: X-Ray Analysis of the Starship Enterprise

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!

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About Dayton Ward

Freelance word pusher. Husband. Dad. Trekkie. Rush fan (the band). Tampa Bay Bucs fan. Observer/derider of human behavior. I know where my towel is.
This entry was posted in fandom, feelin' nostalgic, trek, tributes. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Happy 49th Birthday to the original Starship Enterprise!

  1. Ian McLean says:

    My first pilgrimage to the Smithsonian and the USS Enterprise was in January 1984, followed by a very frustrating visit in January 1992 (because the model had *just* been taken off display for its extensive overhaul for the big anniversary display planned for the next September), and finally this year in January 2013.

    • Dayton Ward says:

      I got to see the exhibit they did in the early 90s following the restoration, and then I didn’t get back there for several years, by which time the model had been moved to where it currently resides.

  2. Pingback: Original ‘Star Trek’ U.S.S. Enterprise Model Turns 49!

  3. Robert says:

    Hey, not trying to be a pedant, but when you said:
    “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.”
    you should have said “….allows for the realization of visual effects unimagined at the time….” because, like models, optical effects are no longer used. (Although models are actually still used in movies, just much less than in the past. For example the Lord of the Rings movies used quite a few models. They called them “bigiatures” instead of miniatures, but they were still scale models.

  4. I remember seeing it in 1980, and wondering who put all those ugly stickers all over it. Watching Star Trek on low-power UHF stations didn’t allow for the definition of modern hi-def. Even watching on VHS lost a lot of the detail. It wasn’t until watching on Me-TV and then buying the blu-rays that I had any idea just how saturated the colors were- it’s like someone beating you over the head with a bat until you acknowledge that Star Trek is in color.

  5. Pingback: Happy 49th Birthday to the original Starship Enterprise! | The Fog of Ward | Mediabastard

  6. mjperkins72 says:

    I remember the restoration. I was on GEnie at the time, before AOL and the Internet as we know it, and so were some of the Smithsonian folk. One of them related moving the Enterprise to the restoration facility in Suitland, MD in the back of a pickup … riding along in the back to be sure the model wasn’t damaged, wearing a full Starfleet uniform and covering traffic with a hand phaser!

  7. psikeyhackr says:

    ” 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.”

    Of course now we can have 3-D printers produce the computer generated models. Is science drowning us with science fiction Or do we need to have a Vulcan Great Awakening to keep up? LOL

    • Dayton Ward says:

      Yeah, but “printing something” still won’t have the same feeling–to me, anyway–as building something. Sure, the building takes place on a computer screen, and I’m certainly not downplaying the work involved in creating something in that medium, but it’s not the same, ya know? :)

  8. Pingback: GUEST BLOG: Wow, The Real-Life Birthplace of The Enterprise – TODAY | Todays Tech Talk

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