Antique ViewMaster Reels

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under What's Hot

View-master has entertained children of all ages for many decades. It is a device that allows for viewing seven 3-D images on a paper disk.

The creation of the View-master occurred in 1939, but it is important to know the background story. In 1918, brothers Fred and Ed Mayer bought Sawyer’s Photo Services, a company that created photographic postcards. Harold Graves joined their operations in 1926. Graves subsequently met William Gruber, an organ maker and ardent photographer while Gruber was vacationing. They discovered that each had created devices for viewing stereo images.

The collaboration of Gruber, Graves and the Mayer brothers produced a unique viewing device. Gruber had initially developed a stereo imaging rig out of two Kodak Bantam Specials set up on a tripod. They updated this with the newly-available Kodachrome 16-mm color film. The View-master disk was born! It holds 14 slides (7 pairs). Two film slides are viewed at the same time, one for each eye. It replicates binocular depth perception. In 1939 Graves and Gruber formed a partnership that allowed for the retail sales of View-master viewers and disks. The patent on the viewer, which had became called Model A viewer, was issued in 1940. The sales of View-masters at Sawyer’s Photo Services far surpassed the postcard revenues.

View-master continued its gain in popularity in the late 1930s, the 1940s and 1950s. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 proved to be a great opportunity to sell View-master disk of Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon to eager tourists. The View-master was enlisted to help the United States military by providing personnel training via their disks. Over 100,000 viewers and approximately six million disks were purchased by the U.S. from 1942 to 1945. A major strategy by Sawyer’s was to eliminate their competition. They did so in 1951 by purchasing Tru-Vue, the main competitor of View-master. The takeover also allowed Sawyer’s to gain Tru-Vue’s licensing right to Walt Disney Studios. Sawyer’s went on to produce numerous disks featuring Disney characters. In 1966, Sawyer’s was bought by the General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation. Several television shows during that time period was featured on View-master disks. They include Star Trek, Here’s Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

Innovation has always been a cornerstone of the View-master brand and that has been demonstrated throughout its history. The Talking View-master was created in 1971. In 1976, the year of the United States Bicentennial, View-master issued a commemorative red and white viewer with a blue handle.

The ownership of View-master has changed hands several times. In 1981, View-master was sold by GAF to Arnold Thaler. In 1989, View-master was sold to Tyco Toys, Inc. until Tyco merged with Mattel, Inc. Fisher-Price, a subsidiary of Mattel, then assumed leadership. In March 2009, the Fisher-Price division announced that production of scenic disks of tourist attractions has ceased production in December 2008.

View-master was inducted in the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999 for its contribution and longevity as part of toy history.