Monte Enterprises

Robert Monte was born in New York in 1921. He studied engineering at the University of Delaware before enlisting in the Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 and served as a Captain in the Pacific.

After the war Robert returned to Delaware and helped manage a family-owned rendering company. In 1952 he set out with his wife Mary and two young children to start his own business as the Craven Rendering Company in the small coastal city of New Bern, in Craven county, North Carolina. Here he also got involved in community service and for a time served as director of a local organization to alleviate rural poverty connected to President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

Monte Enterprises originated as an organization in 1963. According to his son Pete, Robert Monte had been reading a book about paper folding and origami several years beforehand and had been struck by an illustration. The book included a papercraft pattern as an example or practice cutout explaining the process of paper model making. Robert noticed that this simple model bore a resemblance to a building he knew well in New Bern, the stately Tryon Palace dating from 1770 which had been the first state capitol of North Carolina. Out of this eureka moment grew the idea of making educational paper model kits of real-life historic buildings.

The first kit published by Monte Enterprises was a scale model printed on two cardstock sheets of the unique Market House in nearby Fayetteville, an arcaded city hall and marketplace with a clock tower dating from the nineteenth century. Soon Monte was designing cutout kits of other stately public buildings farther afield, such as the recreation of the Capitol Building at the popular open-air living history museum of Colonial Williamsburg a few hours north in Virginia, and the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh.

The earliest models were designed and drawn by Robert Monte, but later he hired several artists to help complete the final drawings for the printed kits. Some of the early models were drawn by April Holton. In 1967, artist Janet Latham joined the company and became an important collaborator in promoting and selling the kits. Her efforts landed the models a valuable placement in the gift shops at the Smithsonian, and a lead to a collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to produce several models in time for their 1967 convention in St. Louis.

The model kits were printed with one or two spot colors on one to eight sheets of oversized cardstock. Each model included a cover sheet with instructions on the back, packaged either in shrink-wrapped plastic or in a large envelope with a sketch and a written history of the building. The U.S. Capitol model, one of the last designs in the series, was also the most ambitious, with 32 cards. Most of the other kits were much simpler and fit on two to four sheets, with the buildings themselves designed to a consistent scale of 1:120, or 1" equaling 10'.

Robert and Mary Monte travelled to many of the historic sites on research trips across the country. Each model was made with the help of the local historical societies and museums that managed the individual buildings, sometimes quite generously. In preparing the Robie House kit, the University of Chicago mailed original Frank Lloyd Wright blueprints of the building to base the model upon. Other museums were not so helpful. Pete Monte told me of one museum, dissatisfied that the color of the roof of the printed model did not match the original precisely, and therefore declined to carry it in their shop.

Once the model kits were printed, maintaining sales relationships with dozens of small museums and historic sites, some run by volunteers others by professionals, was a constant challenge. Monte Enterprises also sold the kits directly to customers by mail order. With small ads in the back of history magazines the company gained a devoted following of paper model enthusiasts. The kit sales never became a primary occupation for the Monte family, but a steady trickle of orders arrived in the mail every day. The White House and Independence Hall models were the most popular sellers, and were reprinted several times.

Detail of art for White House model by April Holton. Revised printing 1968.

Monte Enterprises changed to Monte Models in 1973, about the same time that the company decided to print its kits in-house rather than waiting for the schedules of local printers. With its own press equipment, the spinoff company Monte Printing was able to print a wide variety of small and large jobs for local customers. Pete Monte still runs the company to this day.

Monte Models continued to release new kit designs each year until 1976. In later years the company also began importing and selling Micromodels and other European architectural model kits. Robert Monte finally retired from the business in 1980. The family sold the remaining stock of model kits to Lou Dausse's Paper Models International distribution company in Oregon. Robert passed away in 2002.

May 1963   Ye Olde Market House, Fayetteville, N.C. LOC ©# A628601
January 1964   The Boys' School in Old Salem, Winston-Salem, North Carolina LOC ©# K70192
February 1964 Capitol Building at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia LOC ©# IP6664
March 1964   The Bowne House LOC ©# IP6674
April 1964 North Carolina State Capitol, Raleigh, N.C. LOC ©# IP6741
September 1965 First Presbyterian Church, New Bern, North Carolina. Art & design by Robert Truitt & April Holton. LOC ©# GP50330
September 1965 Gunston Hall, Lorton, Virginia. Art & design by Robert Truitt & April Holton. LOC ©# GP50326
December 1965 Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Design by Bill Burchette, layout by Robert Truitt, art by April Holton. Reprinted Jul 1970, Oct 1973. LOC ©# GP50327
December 1965 Tryon Palace, New Bern, North Carolina. Design by Bill Burchette, layout by Robert Truitt, art by April Holton LOC ©# GP50328
December 1965 The White House. Design by Bill Burchette, layout by Robert Truitt, art by April Holton. Reprinted Dec 1968 LOC ©# A48189
September 1967 General Daniel Bissell House LOC ©# A9600069
September 1967 Tower Grove House LOC ©# A960070
September 1967 The Bolduc House LOC ©# A964413
September 1967 The Campbell House, St. Louis LOC ©# A964414
September 1967 Thomas Sappington House LOC ©# A960071
October 1967 Winston Churchill Memorial LOC ©# A960072
February 1968   The Davenport House, Savannah LOC ©# A987119
May 1968 Mount Vernon, Virginia LOC ©# A997818
June 1968 Monticello LOC ©# A16937
September 1968 The Old Barracks LOC ©# A25809
October 1968 Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut LOC ©# A30799
Jan 1969 The Great House of Old Economy LOC ©# A48190
Feb 1969 The Old Warren County Court House, Vicksburg LOC ©# A461416
May 1969 The Gryst Mill LOC ©# A76878
May 1969 Plimouth Plantation LOC ©# A76877
August 1969 Mount Pleasant LOC ©# A93739
August 1969 Pennsbury Manor LOC ©# A93740
August 1969 The Robie House LOC ©# A93738
August 1969 Sanchez Adobe LOC ©# A93736
August 1969 Woodside Store, San Mateo LOC ©# A93737
November 1969 James Fort, Jamestown LOC ©# A134167
November 1969   Western Stagecoach LOC ©# A134166
June 1970 Colton Hall and Jail, Monterrey LOC ©# A176771
June 1970 The Alamo LOC ©# A176770
December 1970 The Clock Tower, Ghirardelli Square LOC ©# A258211
December 1971 Center Hall, Wabash College LOC ©# A307918
December 1971 The Oldest House, St. Augustine, Florida LOC ©# A307918
December 1971 The Renwick Museum LOC ©# A307917
March 1972 Village Crossroads at Farmer’s Museum LOC ©# A339334
December 1972   First Ladies: 3-Dimensional Paper Dolls LOC ©# A459502
December 1972 Fort Michillimackinac, Mackinaw City, Michigan LOC ©# A459503
August 1973   Maryland State House, Annapolis, Maryland LOC ©# A459504
August 1973 The Paca House, Annapolis, Maryland LOC ©# A459505
November 1973 Rhode Island State House, Newport, Rhode Island LOC ©# A520038
December 1973   Curtis-Lee Mansion, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia LOC ©# A520039
1973 Governor's Palace. Model originally designed by Martin Liebert in 1958.  
February 1974   Boston State House, Boston, Massachusetts LOC ©# A520040
March 1974   Saint Michael's Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska LOC ©# A520036
August 1974 Paul Revere House, Boston LOC ©# A589051
July 1974   The Shadows-on-the-Teche, New Iberia, Louisiana LOC ©# A489050
August 1974 Colvin Run Mill, Fairfax LOC ©# A489053
September 1974   Carpenters' Hall LOC ©# A489054
September 1974 Woodlawn Plantation LOC ©# A489052
March 1975   Washington's Headquarters at Newburgh, New York LOC ©# A661946
March 1975 The Old Constitution House, Windsor, Vermont LOC ©# A661948
April 1975   Faneuil Hall LOC ©# A661947
August 1975   Lyceum, Alexandria, Virginia LOC ©# A661945
August 1975 United States Capitol LOC ©# A707091
September 1975 Pope-Leighey House, Mount Vernon, Virginia

LOC ©# A707089

September 1975 Drayton Hall, Charleston, South Carolina LOC ©# A707090
October 1975 Cliveden, Germantown, Pennsylvania LOC ©# A707088
1975   Bicentennial Mobile. A bonus multi-colored star mobile cutout, included with mail orders.  
1975 Exchange Building  
1979   Lyndhurst, Tarrytown  

References

Robert R. Monte obituary, July 2002, Sun-Journal, New Bern

"A Moderate Approach: How the War on Poverty Was Kept Alive in Eastern North Carolina, 1963-1968", Karen M. Hawkins, The Journal of the Historical Society, September 3, 2013

Phone interview with Pete Monte, July 2017

Phone interview with Janet Latham, August 2017