The View-Master is a toy which people of all ages remember vividly from their childhood. It's one of those rare high-tech inventions that has maintained massive appeal across multiple generations and this month it is celebrating its 65th anniversary. Despite numerous new media devices entering its domain since it first hit the market in 1939, its appeal remains strong and the View-Master has now sold more than a billion units.
With just a glimpse through a View-Master viewer, people have been able to see 3-D images of some of the world's most popular people, places and events, both real and imaginary, past and present.
"View-Master has secured itself as a classic toy that continues to fuel the imaginations of children around the world," says Chuck Scothon, senior vice president of marketing, Fisher-Price. "It is truly a phenomenon that has transcended the toy box to achieve pop culture status."
It all began in 1938 when William Gruber, a piano tuner by trade and a stereo photographer by hobby, invented the View-Master. Soon after the idea took shape, Gruber created the first View-Master viewer and introduced it in Portland, Oregon in 1939. However, it wasn't until the following year at the 1940 New York World's Fair that the world began to pay attention. No one could have predicted the tremendous public response, given the stereograph had been around in various forms for 80 years prior.
Though Gruber did not invent the stereographic viewer, the View-Master found a form factor which significantly improved on the traditional stereograph and also took advantage of another breakthrough technology - the high resolution and rich colour of Kodak's then new Kodachrome film process.
Throughout its history, View-Master viewers have played a variety of roles.
During World War II, viewers were used in training for the U.S. military. After the war, public demand for View-Master viewers and reels skyrocketed. During the 1950s, the company mainly produced reels of various national parks and scenic attractions across the country, intended as souvenirs for adults.
In 1951, due to the acquisition of its only competitor, View-Master obtained the license to use Disney characters and quickly gained momentum in the children's market. Ever since, View-Master reels have featured some of the most popular cartoons, superheroes and fairytales that have become the mainstays of any View-Master reel collection.
The design and development of View-Master products was handled by several different corporations during the 1970s and 1980s. In April 1997, Tyco Toys, which had purchased View-Master in 1989, merged with Mattel. As a result of the merger, the View-Master line was assigned to Fisher-Price, where this American classic continues to thrive.
To celebrate View-Master's 65th anniversary, Fisher-Price is releasing a limited edition View-Master Boxed Set that includes a specially-decorated classic viewer and eight reels, one for each decade of the View-Master's existence, featuring scenes from the Apollo Moon Landing and the first American full-length animated movie, Snow White, to Indiana Jones and SpongeBob. Additionally, Fisher-Price will release the View-Master Time Capsule Assortment, which allows parents to take their kids back in time with nostalgic View-Master viewers and reels featuring favorite cartoon characters of the past.
The View-Master has not been available on the Australian market for several years but will be relaunched in Q1 2005.