View-Master Model G

A View-Master Model G, introduced in 1962

View-Master is a slide viewer to view seven 3D images (stereo images) mounted in a paper disk. A View-Master disk holds 14 film slides in pairs.[1] Although View-Masters are now marketed to children, the disks were originally heavily oriented toward adults, and also included a lot of educational and tourism content.


1939–1966: stereoscopic sightseeingEdit

In 1911, Sawyer's Photo Services began operations. In 1918, brothers Fred and Ed Mayer bought part of Sawyer's. In 1926, Harold Graves joined Sawyer's and was responsible for Sawyer's producing photographic postcards and album sets as souvenirs. Later, photographic greeting-cards were added to the product line and sold to major department stores.[1]

Wilhelm Gruber, an organ maker and photographer, lived in Portland, Oregon. While vacationing at the Oregon Caves National Monument in Josephine County Oregon, he met Graves. Graves and Gruber had independently developed devices to view stereo images. Gruber made a stereo imaging rig from two Kodak Bantam Specials mounted on a tripod. He had the idea of updating the old-fashioned stereoscope by using the new Kodachrome 16-mm color film. Shortly thereafter, in 1939, Gruber and Graves formed a partnership which led to the retail sales of View-Master viewers and disks. The patent on the viewing device was issued in 1940, on the Model A viewer. The View-Master quickly took over the postcard business at Sawyer's.[1]

In late 1939, the View-Master was introduced at the New York World's Fair (marked "Patent Applied For"). It was intended as an alternative to the scenic postcard, and was originally sold at photography shops, stationery stores, and scenic-attraction gift shops. The main subjects of View-Master disks were Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon.[1]

In the 1940s, the United States military recognized the potential for using View-Master products for personnel training, purchasing 100,000 viewers and nearly six million disks from 1942 to the end of World War II, in 1945.[1]

In 1950, Sawyer's built a factory in Beaverton, Oregon to build the View-Master. The site's supply well later ended up on Oregon's list for toxic waste sites.

In 1951, Sawyer's purchased Tru-Vue, the main competitor of View-Master. In addition to eliminating the main rival, the takeover also gave Sawyer's Tru-Vue's licensing rights to Walt Disney Studios. Sawyer's capitalized on the opportunity and produced numerous disks featuring Disney characters. The takeover would pay off further in 1955, with disks of the newly opened Disneyland.[1]

View-Master Model E

A View-Master Model E of the 1950s

In 1952, Sawyer's began its View-Master Personal line, which included a 35-mm camera for its users to make their own View-Master disks. Although at first successful, the line was discontinued in ten years. This line spawned the Model D viewer (available until the early 1970s, it was View-Master's highest-quality viewer) and View-Master's only 3-D projector, the Stereomatic 500.[1] (The projected images were mono, not stereo.)

In 1955, the Model E was introduced, with a more modern design, big ivory buttons on the picture changer levers, and a large "V" slot on top for easier disk insertion. It was black in color, and about 4" high, 5" wide, and 4" deep.

In 1958, the Model F was introduced; it used C-cell batteries to power an internal lighting source.

Industrial designer Charles "Chuck" Harrison led the team designing the Model F View-Master. Fifty years later (in 2008) Harrison won the Cooper-Hewitt Lifetime Achievement Award. [2]

In 1962, the Bakelite models were replaced with plastic versions, the first of which was the Model G. This change was driven by Sawyer's new president, Bob Brost, who took over in 1959. The View-Master had been constructed originally from Kodak Tenite plastic and then Bakelite, a hard, sturdy, somewhat heavy plastic. The material of choice under Brost became the lighter thermoplastic.[1]

1966–present: stereoscopic toyEdit


View-Master disks from a German Karl May movie.

In 1966, Sawyer's was acquired by the General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation, and became a wholly owned subsidiary. Under GAF's ownership, View-Master disks began to feature fewer scenic and more child-friendly subjects, such as toys and cartoons. Television series were featured on View-Master disks, such as Doctor Who, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Here's Lucy, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Actor Henry Fonda appeared in a series of TV commercials for the GAF View-Master.[1]

In 1971, the Talking View-Master was introduced.

In 1976, a red and white View-Master with a blue handle was released to commemorate the United States Bicentennial.

In 1977, GAF switched the film used in View-Masters. GAF had its own line of film and had planned to switch over all View-Master production to it. The film was of poor quality: Images turned red over time.

In 1981, GAF sold View-Master to a group headed by Arnold Thaler, head of Ekco Housewares, for $24 million.

In 1987, six years later, a thriving View-Master International purchased Ideal Toy Company and became known as View-Master Ideal (VMI). To mark the event, the company issued the first 3-D stock certificate, issued with red/blue glasses to view their logo, View-Master with the world as a background in 3-D. When the stock split 2-for-1 in 1989, the certificate was industry standard with no 3-D enhancement.

In the mid-1980s, the toy had a home video label, notable for producing Kidsongs.

In August 1989, the View-Master product line was sold for the third time to Tyco Toys, Inc. of Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, upon its purchase of View-Master Ideal. The View-Master line remained part of Tyco until Tyco’s merger with Mattel, Inc., in 1997.

Shortly after the merger with Mattel, Inc., the View-Master category shifted to Mattel subsidiary Fisher-Price, in East Aurora, New York.

In 1998, EPA investigations began on View-Master factory supply well for the toxic chemical trichloroethylene (TCE). The plant was shut down in 2001.[3]

In March 2009, the Fisher-Price division of toy maker Mattel announced that they had stopped production in December 2008 of the scenic disks depicting tourist attractions. These disks of picturesque scenes and landscape scenery were descendants of the first View-Master disks sold in 1939. Fisher-Price announced they would continue to produce disks of animated characters.[4] In late 2009, Alpha-cine announced it would take-up the scenic reel production under an agreement with Fisher-Price.,[5]

Cumulative production and honorEdit

There have been some 25 viewer models, thousands of titles, and 1.5 billion copies of disks. Despite its long history and many changes in models and materials, the same basic design of disks and internal mechanism remained, ensuring that every disk will work in every model.[1]

View-Master is part of the National Toy Hall of Fame of the United States.


As of July 2009, Dreamworks SKG was negotiating for the rights to develop View-Master into a feature film.[6]

Notable usesEdit


Specifications for View-Master disks

Disks have been produced for Disneyland, many TV shows, movies (such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Flying Nun and Jurassic Park), and the United States military (for airplane and ship identification and range estimation).

David L. Bassett, an expert on anatomy and dissection, collaborated with Gruber to create a 25-volume atlas of human anatomy using the View-Master system.[7]

View-Master produced custom disks for commercial customers to show 3-D images of products and services to potential clients. For example, in the early 1990's, Canadian restaurant chain East Side Mario's used a View-Master disk as their desert menu.[8]

Among the newest View-Master products are a Discovery Channel View-Master, the new Virtual Viewer, the Discovery Channel View-Master Projector and Telescope, and the View-Master 3-D Pocket Viewer, which feature images of popular performers in concert and backstage.

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

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