A brief history of WonderFest

WonderFest began as a swap meet in August of 1990.

The Scale Figure Modelers Society in Louisville planned a little swap meet for the modeling hobbyists in the area. We thought we’d get maybe a hundred people…and wound up with something like 350! The garage kit producers in the US were just starting. So we were shocked and overjoyed at how many folks drove in from far away and how well the fledgling garage hobby was represented.

The Louisville Plastic Kit & Toy Show became WonderFest in 1992.

The first two shows were put on at a tiny Ramada Inn. Our second show was much larger than the first—very crowded—and we realized this could be a growing thing. While planning show number three we decided to move to a larger convention facility across town at a Holiday Inn. We were inspired by the Japanese Wonder Festivals and wanted to do an Americanized “take” on it. So for our third show we moved to the Holiday Inn, became WonderFest, and even had our first t-shirt.

In 1996, we moved hotels again. We’d outgrown the Holiday Inn and moved to the Executive West (now renamed Crowne Plaza), which was much, much larger. We were afraid we couldn’t fill it the first year, so we tried booking a guest who could be a major attractor: Ray Harryhausen. It worked! We were packed from the get-go, the facilities were great, and Ray was a wonderful guest. But the size of the show was starting to strain the club, so there was a downside to this growth.

WonderFest spun off from the club in 1997.

As the show grew, our club meetings changed. Instead of being about building models, we spent all our time planning to put on a 1:1 scale convention! It caused frustration among the club members. Ultimately the club voted unanimously to do the split. WonderFest would become a fan-run business.

The contest has become the largest in the world for the genre.

It started out small but grew fast! It took 20 years to reach 500 entries in 2009, and jumped to more than 600 in 2011. Our goal is to use the contest to grow participation in the hobby. In many ways, it is a world-class art show in the heart of WonderFest. Even people who don’t build models love to look at them and take pictures, especially when the contest brings out the best of the best.

New features keep the show fresh.

Besides the programming in the main two days, new events were added to the show such as WonderFest U, Sci-Fi U, Make & Take, Iron Modeler, and the Friday Night Party. They’re all sanctioned by us, but sponsored by others. Even some guests are co-sponsored by others.

What’s in the future?

Kids who came to our early shows are in their 20’s or 30’s now! We did this to ensure that the hobby would have a future. Today the hobby is experiencing a renaissance of plastic kit companies producing great products. The hobby has been pronounced “dead” many times, but keeps on going.

So far, we’ve survived wars and recessions. There have been births, deaths, health crises and divorces in our “family.” Life goes on! As corny as it sounds, our fans have told us what they want. Within our resource limitations, we’ve tried to give it to them. Without loyal fans, there wouldn’t be a WonderFest. We exist because of you!