60 Years of View-Master History from Sawyers to Mattel




The View-Master has a long history, dating back to the late 1930's in Portland, Oregon, USA. It was initially conceived by William Gruber and Harold Graves. Graves, who was president of Sawyers Photographic Services saw the potential of Gruber's camera rig he has developed for taking stereo photographs. The pair formed a
partnership and the View-Master was born in 1938.

Initially it was intended that the View-Master be an educational tool, primarily aimed at adults, but as time developed the appeal of the View-Master soon spread to other areas, one of the more notable being children's entertainment.

The US Military were keen advocates of the View-Master and had specially commissioned sets of reels produced to aid with artillery spotting and aircraft identification during World War II. They purchased many millions of reels for this purpose, together with 10's of thousands of Model B viewers.

Sawyers didn't have the market to themselves and the Tru-Vue Company was a serious rival. In 1951 Sawyers purchases the Tru-Vue Company and importantly also obtained the rights to present Disney characters on their reels.

In late 1966 View-Master was purchased by GAF (General Aniline & Film Corporation), a company mainly concerned with film processing and cameras. By the 1970's the  Photo Consumer Division was having a great deal of success with the View-Master product, so much so that the other operations were discontinued. Gaf(uk)ltd introduced blister packs, referred to internally as 'tricards''. The tricard concept was initially conceived in Europe and only later adopted in the USA.

Tim Moore, who worked for Gaf in the 1970's wrote,
"The apparent anomaly in model numbers with the Model J referred to as the European model 10 was a result of operational difficulties we experienced when ordering stock from the Belgian plant. On the telephone G and J are easily confused with the continental phonetic sounds and we actually ended up with model G's when model J's had been requested on at least one occasion. This was unfortunate since we had standardised the UK market on the model J quite early and model G's were useless to us. (This standardisation also included the early adoption of tricards and largely discontinuing packets). I think it was our distribution manager who came up with the idea of calling the model J a model 10 since J is the 10th letter of the alphabet. It is my recollection that his staff coined the expression 'space viewer' for the later bulbous viewer, known as the Model 11 or Model K. We thought the first test prototypes were hilarious (picture the staff all pretending to be astronauts) and the moon landings were a big thing in those days.

The change of font for the name gaf was the result of a 're-branding' exercise by management consultants. The cost was substantial and caused a few 'waves' at the time."

Gaf products enjoyed a brief boom in popularity but increasingly the viewers were seen as a toy for children and gradually the market started to shrink.

In 1981 they sold the company to Arnold Thaler for just over $20,000,000. The company was renamed to View-Master International Group (VMI).

This company didn't survive very long because in 1984 the acquired the Ideal Toy Company and became known as View-Master Ideal Group. They in turn sold the company on to Tyco Toys in 1989. Tyco produced viewers from 1989 until 1997, when Mattel, Inc, Tyco and View-Master Ideal Group merged. The View-Master name lives on and is currently being produced under the Fisher-Price brand name (a Mattel owned company).  Who knows what the future holds, but from it's beginnings in 1938, few could have expected the name to still be alive and well over sixty years later.

(Thanks to Tim Moore for additional information. Tim worked for Gaf in the 1970's)

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