The View-Master Slide Show: What 'Click To View' Used To Mean

Fads | May 18, 2019

A View-Master, and a scene starring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Amazon.com

With reels taken from Disney shows, TV series and locations around the world, the View-Master was a simple hand-held device for viewing 3-D scenes that became ubiquitous in American households in the '60s and '70s. From its plastic design, to the distinct sound it makes as you advance slides, to the slides themselves, the View-Master is one of those toys that takes us back to our youth instantly. The paper disks comprised of 7 pairs of images to create the 3D view. It has a history that can be traced back to the 19th century.

Before The View-Master

19th Century stereoscope (Source: Wordpress)

In the 19th century, stereoscopes, essentially 3D viewers that used cards called stereographs, were relatively popular. Starting in 1932, a company called Tru-Vue was producing viewers that used light and transparent film strips rather than picture cards. Tru-Vue had other competitors as well: Sightseer, and Novelview, a company that produced black and white images rather than the sepia images used by Tru-Vue.

View-Master Emerges

The Tru-Vue, an early competitor. Source: (Wikipedia)

Around this time, William Gruber, the inventor of the View-Master was fascinated by the early stereoscopes as well as photography. Gruber, a German immigrant who moved to Portland, married in 1938 and went on a honeymoon near the Oregon Caves. He was taking pictures using a dual-camera tripod, when he met Harold Graves, a fellow photographer. Graves worked for Sawyer’s Inc., a company that manufactured picture postcards. Gruber had connected two cameras, which intrigued Graves. Gruber explained his vision: a viewer for 3D color images. In 1935, Kodak introduced Kodachrome, the innovative color film that would be used for the View-Master.

The Development Of The Brand

Image from a View-Master slide Source: (flashbak.com)

Gruber originally envisioned his invention being used for educational purposes, allowing viewers to study things closely. After Gruber became friends with Dr. David Bassett, he launched a project using cadaver tissue to create an atlas of human anatomy. They began work on it in 1955 and it was finished in 1962. While the project was fascinating, commercial success would come elsewhere. 

A Novelty Before And During WWII

Yogi Bear in 3-D diorama form, for a View-Master reel. Source: MeTV

The View-Master's commercial success did originate in education. The military bought View-Masters between 1942 and 1945 to train personnel to recognize airplanes and ships in shooting range. Word of mouth after the war led families to use the View-Master to visit foreign places without leaving home. The View-Master garnered additional recognition at the 1939 World’s Fair, where it was sold as a souvenir.

Recognizing The Appeal For Kids

Packaging for View-Master reels from the '50s, '60s and '70s. Source: Pinterest

However, it was not Gruber’s original idea for the View-Master that would lead it to become a nostalgic icon. Sawyer’s vision diverged from Gruber. Sawyer understood the appeal that the viewer had for children and in 1944, they hired Florence Thomas to create fairy tale scenes to be used for the reels. This dramatically increased the View-Master’s demographic. Then, in 1951, Sawyer’s purchased Tru-Vue, and with it their license to use Disney’s images.

The 1950s

Source: (John Alan Elson, Wikipedia)

Then, in 1952, Sawyer's developed a camera so that people could make their own reels. This camera, the View-Master Personal Stereo Camera was successful for about 10 years. The 1950s also brought changes to design, with the introduction of the Model E in 1955. The Model F, which featured an internal lighting source and operated using C-cell batteries, won the Cooper-Hewitt Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, 50 years after it was introduced.

The ‘60s And ‘70s

Source: (reddit)

In the ‘60s, the View-Master changed once again. It was originally made with Tenite plastic and Bakelite. In 1962, they switched to lighter plastic.

In 1966, when General Aniline & Film (GAF) purchased Sawyer’s, they began producing slides with more toys, cartoons, and television shows, reflecting changing demographics.

From 1970-1981, the company produced “Talking View-Masters” which included sound through the use of a transparent phonograph on the back of the reel. As the reel advanced, the device played the sound. GAF also produced the View-Master Rear Screen Projector in addition to the iconic original.

Eventually, Tyco acquired View-Master and in 1997, Tyco merged with Mattel, bringing further changes.

Entertainment And Education

Scenes from the '7 Wonders of the World' reel, from 1962. Source: viewmasterworld.blogspot.com

View-Master reels pulled in all sorts of content. The 3D recreations of Disney stories and Hanna-Barbera or Warner Bros. cartoons were very popular, as were reels based on then-current TV shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Gunsmoke. Educational reels showed kids scenes from history, or other countries. Savvy toy manufacturers produced reels based on their offerings, including Barbie and the old 12" G.I. Joe figures.


Newer View-Masters, including the Google Cardboard Source: (medium)

A company in Oregon is selling personal slides that the customer can design. Google has transformed the View-Master again, with Google Cardboard, a viewer that can be folded by hand and used with an app. Google has also teamed with Mattel to produce the View-Master VR, a childproof contraption to allow people to experience virtual reality on their cell phones.

Currently, Mattel and MGM have a live action View-Master movie in the works.

Tags: Remember This?... | Toys | View-Master

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!