View-Master at 65


Classic toy remains popular :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


It survived World War II, color TV and cell phones-all without batteries. The completely low-tech toy, View-Master, celebrates its 65th anniversary this year in the same form it has had since William Gruber invented it in 1938.

View-Master is the binocular-like viewer and reel-the round disc that contains the pictures-that fits in it. Insert the reel-by hand, of course-and click the lever-by hand again-to move through the photos. There actually are two photos of each scene, each slightly different. By looking through the viewer, each eye sees a slightly different scene, giving the vision a three-dimensional quality.

View-Master hit the market in Portland, Ore., in 1939 and took off quickly. Initially, it was aimed at adults. It wasn't until the 1950's that View-Master began to produce kid-friendly reels featuring Disney cartoons and other children's story characters. In 1997, View-Master was acquired by Mattel and is now distributed by its Fisher-Price subsidiary.

"The viewers have changed quite a bit, but the oldest View-Master reel will work in the newest View-Master," says Michael Cosentino, a member of the Chicago Stereo Camera Club. The reverse is true as well-new reels will work on an old View-Master.

"It's just kind of neat because mom and dad's reels are passed onto the kids," says Mary Ann Sell of Cincinnati, president of the National Stereoscopic Association.

More than 1 billion reels have been produced over the years.

Don't have any passed down from earlier generations in your family? It's not too late to start the tradition. View-Master aficionados say garage and yard sales are a good place to start your search for vintage viewers and reels.

Graham Johnston

Kids Eat Chicago

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