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PO Box 1824
20000 Caves Hwy.
Cave Junction, OR 97523
Phone: 541-592-3400
Fax: 541-592-4075

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The Birth of the Viewmaster


William Gruber, a piano tuner and hobby stereo photographer, went to the Oregon Caves National Monument on a photography excursion in 1938. He was already toying with the idea of updating the 19th century stereoscope, using Kodachrome color slide film.

At the Caves, he met Harold Graves, president of Sawyer's Photographic Services & a fellow camera buff. By the next morning, they had made a deal to produce a new handheld stereo-viewing device, the View-Master, to show color images. It was introduced in Portland, Oregon in 1939, but didn't catch on nationally until it appeared at the 1940 New York World's Fair.

19th Century Stereoscope and sample cards
19th Century Stereoscope and cards
A year after its debut, the View-Master was being sold in 1,000 stores. During World War II, View-Master produced training reels for the United States military. After the war, demand for the viewers & new reels skyrocketed. Sets of reels showing the Oregon Caves National Monument & other national parks, historic events and Disney characters became very popular.

The View-Master, now owned by Fisher-Price, has continued to evolve & offers a wide range of images of popular TV & movie characters. Each new model of the View-Master has been given a different letter of the alphabet. The original design was called a Model A (pictured on the left, with a 1950's era model next to it.) The orange viewer is a Model L. Although the look of the View-Master has changed, it still relies on a simple combination - ambient light (not batteries) and exciting and entertaining images for kids of all ages.

Orange "Model L" View-Master, courtesy: 3D Stereo, Las Vegas
Black View-Masters and 19th Century Stereoscope courtesy: Kerbyville Museum

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