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Classic Christmas Gift Viewmaster

Updated on June 23, 2011


The Stereopticon was a 19th century sensation. The pair of photos had been taken with a special camera with lenses spaced about as far about as the distance between a person’s eyes.

This captured an image from 2 slightly different angles. When viewed from the Stereopticon, a wooden and glass hand held device, the picture gave a 3D effect. The effect is very realistic. I have seen images through a large viewer and the effect is quite good.

Most middle class households had a stereo viewer and a collection of images, they were mounted on cardboard and many houses have dozens. Viewing parties were very popular. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that "the stereograph is to be the card of introduction to make all mankind acquaintances." Travel themes were especially popular. You can still view hundreds of stereo pictures at the museum in Wisconsin Dells, like the image below.

In 1938 a updated version of the stereopticon was invented by William Gruber and Harold Graves, they called their new invention the View-master. The View-Master used round cardboard disk with 14 imbedded images. Instead of one image to a card ,like the older stereo viewer, the View-Master had 7 views on the small disk.

Stereo images were taken of the 1939 New York World’s Fair and they were the most popular initial offering for the View-Master. Views of nature were the most common images, along with historical sites. Many of the images were rather serious. Nation Parks, Bible stories and the canonization of Pope Pius X were early subjects. The subject matter changed in 1951.

Tru-Vue was a manufacturer of film strips when they were bought out by View-Master. Tru-Vue had a deal with Disney to use their characters in their film strips. Now View-Master had the ability to right to make 3D images of Disney characters. This shifted the View-Master from a item from the whole family to more of a children’s toy. By 1956, View-Master was making images based on Disney and children’s shows, such as Zorro and the Lone Ranger.

Many shows ended up on View-Master, such as Star Trek, Time Tunnel and Batman. The View-Master, now owned by Fisher-Price is still selling images that at the best, amaze and entertain us.


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