December 24, 2012

View-Master toy remembered fondly by many


The stereoscope became a popular Victorian pastime, and nearly every home had one. Some were humble, handheld wooden stereoscopes, and others were fancy tabletop models lined with velvet and inlaid with mother of pearl. Nevertheless, in every home, the stereoscope offered an enlightening visual doorway into the scenic wonders of the world — foreign nations; people of many cultures; and exotic flora, fauna, animal and bird life.

After the turn of the 20th century, there were great advancements in photography, and in 1927, safety film was invented. This opened a new door of opportunity for stereoscopic exploration. In 1931, the Tru-Vue company was formed in Rock Island, Ill., to manufacture stereoscopic film strips. The Tru-Vue viewer was art deco in styling and molded in durable modern Bakelite plastic. It was a small, handheld gadget that had open slots on either side for sliding film strips through. Tru-Vue subjects were based on scenic wonders, travel, children’s stories and current events. Tru-Vue also held exclusive rights to reproduce Disney characters on its film strips.

It was after the introduction of Kodachrome color film in 1935 that Gruber began to experiment on improving stereoscopic photography. He began by rigging up a special camera that could take two simultaneous photographs of the same subject (in actuality it was a tripod mounted with two Kodak Bantam Special cameras that were loaded with the new Kodachrome color film). Once the film was developed, seven sets of pictures were mounted in a circular cardboard disk that rotated in the newly designed viewer. It was a great success.

When Sawyer’s introduced its View Master at the World’s Fair, it appealed to people of all ages. Reel subjects ranged from national parks and monuments to almost every state. Foreign countries, religious themes, Bible stories, fairy tales, animal and circus acts, film stars and cartoon characters were all featured on the reels. The latter subjects made them incredibly popular with children.

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