December 24, 2012

View-Master toy remembered fondly by many

It was the best toy ever!” exclaimed Rona Mansfield, inn keeper at Whiteface Chalet in Wilmington. 

“I got it for Christmas in 1962, and I used to spend hours just sitting on my bedroom floor looking at all those wonderful places. I spent almost as much time looking at the order form, trying to decide what I would get next,” she said with a laugh.

Mansfield’s favorite toy — along with millions of other kids in the 1950s and ‘60s — was a Sawyer’s View-Master, a stereoscopic marvel that presented the wonders of the world in vibrant color. Her viewer, with its built-in backlighting mechanism, provided hours of solitary entertainment — every parent’s dream after the hustle and bustle of a busy holiday season.

Sawyer’s View-Master made its debut at the 1939 World’s Fair, just four years after Kodachrome color film was introduced. The 3-D viewer and the round photographic discs that went with it were the creation of two Portland, Ore., men: William Gruber, a scenic photographer; and Harold Graves, the president of Portland Sawyer’s Inc., a picture-postcard and film-developing company.

Their partnership began when Gruber and Graves met by happenstance; both were on vacation at the Oregon Caves National Monument in Josephine, Ore. Upon discovering their common interest in scenic photography, souvenir pictures and postcards, they joined forces to create one of the most marvelous toys of the 20th century.


The concept of the stereoscope was first discovered in 1838 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, an English scientist and inventor who used mirrors with identical drawings to create the illusion of pictures with dimension. Many others also experimented with the idea, but it wasn’t until the advent of photography that the handheld stereoscope became a success.

In 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the famous writer and physician, created a handheld instrument consisting of two separate lenses encased in a viewing mechanism that allowed the eyes to focus individually on a double-image stereo card. The result was 3-D imagery, and the rest is history.

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