Fisher-Price, the subsidiary of Mattel which produces View-Master viewers and reels, has announced that they will cease production of scenic reels in response to a declining demand. The View Master has fallen out of favor with today’s children, who have grown up with video games, portable DVD players, and IPODs. The production of better-selling reels with popular cartoon characters from Disney and Nick Jr. will continue.
View-Master is an icon for baby boomers, especially those of us whose relatives lived a distance away. Long hours were spent peering through the plastic binocular-type viewing devices as we tried not to ask our parents “Are we there yet?” one too many times. Small paper discs containing seven pair of slides took us into another world, one without parents, bothersome siblings and boring car rides.
I was awed by the glorious images of the Grand Canyon and the beauty of the Taj Mahal when viewed in stereoscopic vision (3D). The View Master took me to places around the world, where I could imagine myself inside the beautiful scenes of some of the world’s greatest tourist attractions.
View-Master was not originally intended to be a child’s toy, but an improvement over the stereoscopic viewers and scenic postcards that were popular in the early 1900’s. The creators of the View-Master, William Gruber and Harold Graves, had each developed devices for viewing three-dimensional images. Mr. Gruber was a photographer and organ maker from Oregon. Mr. Graves was associated with Sawyer’s Photo Services, producing souvenir photos, postcards and albums for the company. He wanted to improve the device by using the new 16mm films.
The pair met by coincidence while on vacation and discussed ways of improving their viewing devices, forming a partnership in 1939. The new, improved viewers advanced the reel with a hand-operated sliding mechanism. First reels included scenes of Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon and other wonders, and were sold at the souvenir stands of tourist attractions.
The View-Master was presented to the public at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, patented in 1940, and soon overtook Sawyer’s other business endeavors. Sawyer’s bought out their rivals in 1951, gaining rights to use popular Walt Disney characters. The company capitalized on this good fortune, and began producing colorful cartoon reels that appealed to children.
Improvements were made on this popular entertainment over the years. Buttons on new models became larger and easier for children to handle. Once relying on the ambient light in a room or outdoor light for viewing, battery-operated interior lights were featured on some models. Shells are made of durable, lightweight thermoplastics instead of the original Kodak Tenlite (and later, Bakelite).
Today’s View-Masters are colorful and lightweight, and the newest reels feature popular Walt Disney and Nick Jr. characters, as well as educational reels that teach children about animals and nature. View-Master continues to educate and entertain us. Perhaps the most exceptional feature is that, unlike modern toys and gadgets which quickly become obsolete, every View-Master reel ever made will fit into every View-Master stereoscopic viewer model ever made.
The Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana, March 9, 2009