Kids of the Noughties get their fix from a trip to the IMAX cinema; kids of the 90s would crowd into a sick-inducing Simulater at the seaside; and kids of the 80s held coloured sweetie wrappers against their eyes. What are we talking about? The quest for 3D effects, that's what. Ok, so not all kids had to resort to sweet wrappers back in the 80s - if they were very lucky, they had a View-Master!
Iconic in its design, everyone remembers the clunky red plastic GAF 'Model J' Viewer that had us all oohing and aahing. It was our first foray into virtual reality, after all. Basically, the View-Master was a special kind of slide viewer - back when people took slides instead of photographs - which took circular slide discs with pictures of your favourite cartoons on them. There were all kinds of discs produced for the View-Master - from educational wildlife sets, The Seven Wonders Of The World and even a 25-volume anatomy of the human body, through to tales of Popeye and Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Here's lucy and The Beverly Hillbillies. Each frame also featured a line of text to give a bit more depth to the stories. It was wonderful, apart from when the unreliable trigger mechanism resulted in the frames not quite aligning.
The responsibility for this - well, the View-Master in general - lies with a photography buff named William Gruber. In 1939, he envisioned a contraption that could take a slide, consisting of two overlapping images, that when looked at through two eyepieces would present a three-dimensional picture. When Gruber crossed paths with a tourist named Harold Graves during a visit to the Oregon Caves National Monument, this idea turned into an actuality. A year later, they set out to create their first prototype of the red wonder we all know and love. It was an instant hit.
When America went to war in the early 40s, the military took interest in the devices as a cheap way to train troops. They purchased a staggering 10,000 View-Masters and over six million reels. Then, in 1951, Sawyer acquired the Tru-Vu stereo Film Company. This deal included the rights to their Stereochrome viewers and, more importantly, Disney characters. Soon, kids everywhere were begging for a View-Master. In 1966, a company called The General Aniline and Film Corporation (or GAF) purchased Sawyer’s invention. A maker of Super 8 film and slides, they were able to license to rights to dozens of films and TV shows over the next two decades. With a heavily slant towards tourism still remaining, spots such as Universal Studios, Marineland and the Detroit Zoo were also quick to produce disks.
The View-Master reached its peak of popularity in the early 80s when it went hand in hand with all the 3D programmes TV channels were clamouring to broadcast at that time. Remember getting those red and green plastic glasses free with your weekly comic or copy of the TV Times? It's probably still stuck down the side of some peoples' sofas.
Since 1939, 25 variations of the View-Master have been rolled out, including a Talking View-Master and different-coloured designs, and 1.5 billion disks have been produced. It's so famous in fact, that the toy has appeared in the movies - in Dawn Of The Dead and Hot Shots! Part Deux to name but two. The View-Masters are still popular today, although in 2008 Fisher Price announced it would cease producing slides of tourist attractions. Luckily for us it would continue with its range of animated character slide sets, though. We can't wait to see what's next...