History of terrain models
The first moulded terrain models were created for military purpose. Towns and fortifications were predominantly modelled, but also larger territories. The imperator Maximilian I. (14591540) for example induced the manufacturing of four primitive terrain models of the eastern Alps during 15001540 by P. Dax  and Pope Clemens VII used a cork model of Florence created by Benvenuto di Lorenzo della Volpaia and Niccolò Tribolo to plan his siege of 1529/30 . The first centre of relief modelling became Venice in the middle of the 16th century. Nearly 200 models were created to depict the possessions of the Venetian Doges in the Levant.  In Germany, the duke Albert V of Bavaria let produce four reliefs of towns by Jakob Sandtner between 1568 and 1574. 
Bavarian National Museum
In Paris, Sébastian Vauban (16331707), the famous French fortification engineer of King Louis XIV, let produce outstanding accurate models of all his constructions including their environment . But also fortified cities of potential enemies and models of mountain regions were created. As well Paris as Venice in Italy were centres of terrain modelling . These military models as well as topographic maps were not open to the public and top secret of course.
For a long time, topographic maps were very rare and the problem of the representation of the third dimension was not simple to manage on maps. Especially in hilly and mountained regions, it was less difficult to create a three-dimensional model of the earth’s surface than to translate it in a two-dimensional map.
Whereas today commonly a terrain model is shaped after the contour lines of a map, the approach at the end of the 18th century was inversely. The best part of the "Atlas Suisse par Meyer et Weiss", the best map of Switzerland during the first half of the 19th century based on a terrain model of a great part of the Swiss Alps created by Joachim Eugen Müller (17521833). 
A first height reached the art of terrain modelling in Switzerland towards the end of the 19th century. Prerequisites for this evolution were several new technical achievements like reliable contour maps of the whole country, the invention of photography, the upcoming alpinism and the strengthened scientific interest of geologists.
Swiss Alpine Museum
Whereas large scale models benefited from the use of photographs depicting even the smallest details, the production of small scale models was facilitated by the use of a pantograph. At the end of the 19th century, this method allowed milling out a model from a block of plaster, when using the contour lines of a map to guide the milling cutter. Based on the pantograph, Karl Wenschow (18841947) developed a method to produce quickly a large amount of accurate terrain models by pressing paper-moulds using the die stamping technique.
During the World War II, the Allied produced huge amount of terrain models using different techniques. They provided crucial information for the landing operations in North Africa and Normandy.
After the World War II in the USA a procedure using vacuum formed plastic sheets has been developed to produce cheap reliefs in large quantities. Maps of the corresponding area where printed on the plastic sheets before their forming. This technique is in use until today.
In the last years, a new technology allows to generate the entire model directly by a computer-controlled 3D-printer. There exist different printing techniques producing uncoloured terrain models. They all are subsumed under the label Rapid Prototyping. A technique to paint the model after forming has also been developed.
 Gygax, Fritz. Das topographische Relief in der Schweiz. 1937. S.14 and Grün, W.-D.. Kretschmer, Ingrid. Relief. 1986.
 Stempien, David C.. Terrain models as battlefield visualization training tools. 2002. p.33. and Gottschewski, Adolf (ed.). Die Lebensbeschreibungen der berühmten Architekten, Bildhauer und Maler. Die italienischen Architekten und Bildhauer des 16. Jahrhunderts. Band VII. Strassburg 1910. S.229,230. a German translation of: Vasari, Giorgio. Delle vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori. Firenze 1568.
 Gerola, Giuseppe. I Plastici di fortezze venete al museo storico navale di Venezia. In: Atti del reale istituto veneto di scienze. Lettere ed arti. 1930,31. p.217-221. cited after Roux, Antoine de. et al.. Les plans en relief des places du roy. 1989. p.22.
 http://www.bayerisches-nationalmuseum.de/Win/d/d.htm access 19.3.2006. and Reuther, Hans. Wesen und Wandel des Architekturmodells in Deutschland. In: Daidalos, II. Gütersloh 1987. cited after Roux, Antoine de. et al.. Les plans en relief des places du roy. 1989. p.22.
 Imhof, Eduard. Bildhauer der Berge. 1981. S.107.
 Grün, W.-D.. Kretschmer, Ingrid. Relief. 1986.
 See also Imhof, Eduard. Bildhauer der Berge. 1981. and Caminada, Paul. Pioniere der Alpentopographie. 2003.