If you are a person of a certain age, then the ViewMaster holds a special charm. Like its predecessor, the Stereoscope, the View-Master was the virtual reality viewer of its day: a device designed to present 3-D photo images. And, like its predecessor, the Holy Land was a subject of great interest and popularity.
A bit of history: the ViewMaster (or View-Master) was first introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 by the partnership of Wilhelm Gruber, an organ maker and amateur photographer, and Harold Graves, who was in charge of the postcard division at Oregon-based Sawyer’s Photo Services.
Their idea was to update the old-fashioned stereoscope to the new Kodachrome 16-mm color film, printing small-format photo transparencies and mounting them in pairs on a disk to be viewed with a simple hand-operated viewer. Initially, the photo subjects were travelogues, such as Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon, quickly followed by more far-flung locations such as Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Collector and dealer Kip “Mr. ViewMaster” Brockman has several such travelogues on his site, as does the ViewMaster World blog. The disks were accompanied by a narrative booklet. For example, if you were to purchase Modern Israel, part of the Nations of the World series, as you viewed the stereoscopic image, you would read the following:
“Our El Al Israel Airlines plane lands at Lod Airport, near Tel Aviv. An attractive hostess welcomes us to Israel with a spoken greeting in Hebrew, from the Bible: “Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and when thou goest out.”
Tel Aviv, Israel’s No. 1 boom town, is the first all Jewish metropolis since Biblical times…The beach front is a Coney Island on the Mediterranean; booths sell corn on the cob, watermelon, or falaffel (“the Israeli hot dog”)…
Tel Aviv stands as a symbol of modern, energetic Israel. The country’s spirit is personified in its new generation. The native born Sabra— Hebrew word for cactus (tough outside, sweet inside) — is tall, healthy, suntanned, and confident, with the swagger of an adventurer.”
Oh my gosh! I would really like to visit that place where air-hostesses quote scripture, Israelis are tall and un-neurotic, and the notion of falafel as “the Israeli hot dog” doesn’t send me into paroxysms of laughter. But I digress.
After 1966, when Sawyer’s became a wholly owned subsidiary of the General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation, more child-friendly subjects like cartoons and TV series were introduced.
The full account of View-Master’s history of Mergers & Acquisitions is a long one; the short version is that the product is currently carried by Mattel subsidiary Fisher-Price, which in December 2008 announced that it would cease production of the scenic disks depicting tourist attractions. According to Wikipedia, “These disks of picturesque scenes and landscape scenery were descendants of the first View-Master disks sold in 1939.”
Fisher-Price continues to produce disks of animated characters, including Dora the Explorer who prefers to go places instead of just looking at them on-screen. Well, travel is easier nowadays. There was something magical, though, about looking at the tiny celluloid images through the ViewMaster lens. (It was, as my significant other says, “like having a tiny, personal TV” and if you squished the eyepiece sideways into your brow ridge just right, you could get the full 3D effect, however briefly). So you can still get a ViewMaster. As for getting hold of ViewMaster travelogues, there’s always eBay.