Vivid Stereo camera 7-perf prototype made by Stereocraft Engineering
1957 Gordon Smith on the beach by Helen Smith
with View-Master Personal camera
1960 Gordon Smith shoveling snow in Minnesota by Helen Smith with View-Master Personal camera
1980 Gordon and Helen Smith in their Pacific Grove, CA home
by Susan Pinsky
1982 Gordon Smith View-Master camera designer looking at Stereo 50 viewer by Susan Pinsky
Stereocraft Engineering and Sawyer's View-Master factory, OR
1957 Helen & Gordon Smith, inventor of the View-Master Personal Camera & TDC Vivid cameras in a living room
View-Master reel making machine factory (deafening noise!!)
1958 Gordon Smith rowing on a lake by Helen Smith
1978 View-Master S-1B (blower) projector prototype sideview made by Karl Kurz by Susan Pinsky
MU-1 Mushrooms in their Natural Habitats - no 2 Aleuria Aurantia
1944 - 1945 Letters between Gordon Smith and Karl Kurz:
Personal Stereo Camera
by Herbert C. McKay
1945 Letters between Gordon Smith and Karl Kurz:
ASSEMBLY of the VIEW-MASTER PERSONAL STEREO CAMERA
245 SPECIAL PARTS are assembled to the 5 ALUMINUM DIE CASTINGS forming the body of the camera. Although many of these parts are fastened by riveting, pressing, or staking, an additional 41 SCREWS are required to complete the assembly. TOTAL NUMBER OF PARTS - 292.
ANASTIGMAT LENSES designed especially for this camera will resolve more than 100 lines per mm, 12,540 lines per inch over most of the picture area, and are MATCHED WITHIN ½% identical picture size. OPTICAL AXIS of lenses aligned with film edge within .002 inch. FIXED FOCUS assures sharp focus (.001 inch circle of confusion) from 10 feet to infinity at f3.5 lens opening (from 4 feet to infinity at f16).
Engineered and manufactured exclusively for Sawyer's Inc. by
STEREOCRAFT ENGINEERING CO.
"The growth of the camera starts at the bottom. The individual parts are joined to form sub-assemblies of increasing complexity and these, in turn, are finally assembled to form the completed camera. At the top, the sub-assembly method of production permits a larger group of specially trained personnel to cooperate in assembling and testing."
Wedding photo of Gordon Novotny Smith
and Helen Merle Bishop
Wedding photo of Gordon Novotny Smith
and Helen Merle Bishop
1946 Stereocraft Engineering - Gordon Smith near front wearing glasses
Gordon Smith holding the TDC Vivid stereo camera he designed along with Karl Kurz at Stereocraft Engineering
DR-4 Woman with Gordon Smith posing with View-Master Personal Stereo Camera and StereoMatic 500 3-D Projector
as Stereo Sweethearts
Gordon Smith with worker at Stereocraft Eng with
first Vivid stereo camera
1954 Gordon Smith TDC Vivid Camera designer
with worker checking shutters
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
by Wolfgang and Mary Ann Sell
Stereocraft Engineering was the marriage of two great minds--Karl Kurz and Gordon Smith. Together, these two men became responsible for many of the fine quality products associated with the View-Master name. The first "reel" machine operated by Sawyers utilized seven women setting around a circular
table and assembling the reels by hand in a sequential pattern. This was the system adopted to produce the early "hand-lettered" style reels. Because of the time and work involved in this process, the company felt it necessary to develop an automated machine to do the job.
Karl and Gordon were both employed by the L.R. Teeple Company when that company received the commission to develop a reelmaking machine for View-Master. Karl was working in the machine shop and Gordon was in engineering. So, in early 1943, the first automated reel machine was developed. The machine was built around the kind of mechanical movements that were developed for the player piano. It had a lot of patches,
little leather liners and vacuum valves that made the machine work. This early machine was not very fast but it quadrupled the production realized by the hand machine.
William Gruber and Karl Kurz had already become close friends by this time. Since both were German emigrants, they had a common background. Karl first met William at a friend's home in 1940, when William found out that Karl was a tool & die maker, they became very close friends. As a result of their friendship, Karl developed an early stereo camera that William used for all of his close-up work such as shooting photographs of wildflowers and mushrooms.
Karl left Teeples in late 1943 and was doing some independent work for various firms in the area. William asked Karl if he could design a View-Master viewer. He agreed, then designed and made the model for the Model "C" viewer--the first style where the reel could be inserted
directly into the viewer.
The original model was made of wood and Harold Graves and Ed Mayer immediately approved its design upon presentation. At the end of the war, it was sent to the East Coast to be tooled and manufactured.
During this time, Gordon was busy doing engineering work for the U.S. War Department after relocating to New York. However, they stayed in contact with one another. At the end of the war, William suggested that Karl go into business for himself making stereoscopic instruments and parts. At about the same time, Harold Graves was urging Gordon (who was planning on returning to Portland) to do the same thing. Together they founded Stereocraft Engineering in October, 1945.
One of their first projects was to completely redesign the reel-making machine. The new design utilized air pressure instead of vacuum, because it was easier to control as well as being faster and more powerful. The whole
sequence of operations was modernized. In addition to putting on the 14 pictures, the new machine was able to seal the upper and lower halves of each reel. From there, the reel went onto another position that would print the captions directly onto the reel. The completed reels ended up on a spindle. From there, it was an easy step to insert them directly into envelopes.
Stereocraft initially made a battery of eight machines during the early stages of the company. Today, these high-quality machines (along with a few others constructed over the years) are still in use by the View-Master plant in Portland for reel making and assembly.
The internal workings of the reel making
machines were engineering marvels. They were manufactured so that an arm comes out to pick up each reel and move it over to another position. There is a little vacuum at the end of the arm and it picks up the reel and rotates it a seventh of a turn. The pictures are put on with great accuracy with a tolerance of 1 or 2 thousandths of an inch. The need for accuracy was critical because it
is important not to have any misalignment when you are doing stereo work.
This system requires 14 large reels of 16mm film to be lined up in the machine, one after the other. When the machine is in operation, the whole reel of film advances one frame at a time. Each frame is put onto the View-Master reel in exactly the right place; little hot points come down and hold it there and
locate it while the film is being cut off.
While the finishing touches were being put on the reel-making machines, several other projects were being developed by the Stereocraft team. Karl Kurz developed an early projector -- the S-1, in 1948. The first prototype for this model was crafted in wood, but was fully operational. At about the same time, initial ideas were being developed to produce some type of stereo camera for so the mass public could take their own View-Master pictures.
Karl and Gordon developed the early ideas for this camera with significant input from William Gruber.
Stereocraft was also kept busy producing the metal parts for the Model C viewers and, later the Model D, focusing viewer as well as junior projectors. Dies were created and all of the metal parts were made at their plant. Sawyers made the Bakelite moldings in their compression molding machines. The parts were hand assembled at the Sawyers facility and the final product was then boxed and
ready for the retail market.
The first blueprint for the View-Master Personal Camera, as we know it, was drawn up by Gordon Smith in 1948. The camera used a unique lens shift system that enabled the photographer to take 36 pictures in one direction and then shift the lenses to take another set of 36 pictures in the other direction as the film reversed in the camera.
Another special feature of the Personal
camera was the fact that the counter worked in reverse. This was to let you know to reverse the lenses when it got to 0 because it locked at that point. It also let you know to quit shooting after you got back to your 24 or 36 exposure mark indicating you were out of film.
Quality was the number one priority at
Stereocraft Engineering and it showed itself in the construction of the Personal Camera. The General Scientific lenses were beautifully mounted and matched. The lenses were matched by both size and focal length--lenses were not put into a camera without actually matching them optically to confirm that the
manufacturer was within specifications. On a short focal length, such as a 1-inch focal length lens, these types of procedures were critical.
Of course, the great picture quality and
excellent resolution was an added bonus. The camera's only problem was the gasket for the shutter blades--which were only 2 thousandths of an inch thick. As the gasket compressed from the pressure, it caused the blades to bounce and overexpose part of the image upon triggering. This has presented itself as a
problem commonly known as "shutter
bounce". It has been the only known failing of the camera since its initial introduction to the public in 1952.
Gordon Smith's design was approved and
patented by Stereocraft Engineering on July 3, 1950.
The idea of putting the instructions on the
bottom of the camera was something else unique to View-Master at the time. (It was later used by Stereocraft on the TDC Vivid Camera that they also designed.) This was intended as a "fail-safe" mechanism for the people not familiar with general camera techniques. Bill
Gruber was always trying to make the design simple enough for everyone to use.
The View-Master Personal camera was
introduced to the public in 1952 at a cost of $149. It was designed to enable the owner to take his own reels to accompany his existing View-Master reel library.
It was particularly attractive to those who were unfamiliar with photographic techniques, because it needed no exposure meter, no calculating and no bother. The exposure control was integrated with the camera controls in a manner so clever that all you had
to do was to set one dial to the speed of film you wish to use and a second dial to the light conditions, then press a button.
The unit was self contained, with the lenses lying within the body and the filters lying on top of the lenses in the body wall retained by a standard Series V retaining ring. The weight was only one pound, nine ounces when loaded with film.
The first one hundred cameras produced were numbered beginning with 0999 and
descended in numerical order down to
number 0900. These were given to factory employees and friends for testing purposes and evaluation. Most of these cameras had a silver top (brushed, plated or painted) and the center shift lever was marked 1/2 rather than the A/B of the standard production camera.
Actual production cameras were
consecutively numbered beginning with
number 1,000. The earlier models did not
include a film advance indicator and had
rounded shutter blades. Later models
included the film advance indicator and had squared shutter blades.
There were many minor variations made in the camera during its production. Most of these changes improved the overall performance of the camera but changed little in its look cosmetically.
Somewhere in the low 20,000 number range the camera received a makeover and underwent a color change to three-tone brown. The crinkle brown finish hid a multitude of sins in the castings thus making production less wasteful for Stereocraft.
Although it is difficult to determine exactly how many Personal cameras were made...the best estimates are that production consisted of less than 30,000 units. These cameras remain popular today with both collectors and stereo
In order to be able to mount the film shot with the View-Master Personal camera, a special film cutter was developed. It punched out both films simultaneously, thus providing mechanically positive alignment between the two halves.
The camera apertures had small notches in one edge. One notch was semicircular and the other was square; thus providing indicators for right and left images. In this manner, you could mount your stereo images without knowing which the left was and which was the right image; the circle or the square provided the necessary information. After punching out the images, it was a simple matter to insert the film chips into View-Master Personal reel blanks with the matching marks. These blanks have 14 pockets for mounting the seven stereo pairs.
The camera was received enthusiastically by the photographic community and went on to sell quite well during its production period. However, the advent of home movies caused an early demise to stereo photography in general and, unfortunately, the loss of the View-Master camera in particular.
Indoor photography was made possible by the use of the View-Master flash attachment. It was tailored to fit easily onto the Personal camera and attached via a knurled thumbscrew. A single stainless-steel contact point where the flash attachment joined the camera plus the silver contact points in the internal flash switch, assured properly
synchronized flash pictures every time. The flash had a guide number setting within the focusing knob that was easy to adjust to the appropriate guide number established by the film manufacturer.
At an additional cost, you could purchase 24" or 36" close-up lenses for your View-Master Personal camera; thus giving you the added opportunity to do close up stereo photography and still enjoy the ease of using the View-Master camera.
On both lens models, a folding viewfinder
prism fit over the camera viewfinder and
corrected for the vertical parallax
encountered at short distances. The close-up attachment with the viewfinder prism folded away, fitted into a small leather case that was included.
The depth of field obtainable with the close-up attachment depended mainly on the area in front of the camera in which the field of view of the two converging lenses coincided to give stereo pairs that could be viewed comfortably. Although this area varied with the individual, Sawyers recommended a 25" to 50" depth of field for the 36" model and a 20" to 30" range for the 24" close-up attachment. The 36" model was considered the standard portrait model and the 24" was the scientific model available only by special order. The results using these special lenses
were quite good and they became an
important part of the complete Personal
During the time the Personal camera was in production Stereocraft's test lab was already experimenting with a new camera design dubbed the "Junior" (also known as the "Personette"). Precision machining time and the number of production steps required to produce the "shift-lens" mechanism in the View-Master Personal camera required dozens
of extra pieces and many extra man-hours. View-Master realized that the elimination of this mechanism could be achieved with a camera using a diagonal film path.
Several working prototypes were produced as well as finalized mock-ups. The company liked the idea of using a diagonal film path and copies of all the designs were sent to the European View-Master operation in Belgium for their review.
After Stereocraft Engineering spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars finalizing plans and models, the project was taken away from them and given to the Belgium plant for cost efficiency...much to the chagrin of the
engineers involved. The proposed look of the Portland design was much more attractive than the final result achieved by the Belgium plant.
View-Master Belgium had been working
independently on their own design based on the diagonal film path system originated at Portland. Corporate headquarters approved the final camera and the new camera was manufactured in West Germany for View-Master. It was called the Stereo Color Camera. Later, the name was changed to the View-Master Mark II Camera.
The Color Camera also had a simple exposure calculator, the shutter speed was preset to a 1/60 second, and one would match a picture of the sun in various stages to the lighting conditions to set the "F" stop.
The camera had both MX and PC flash
connections, a big advantage over the
Personal that needed to be modified for
electronic flash. The camera, although better in some respects, did not have the
"indestructible tank" quality of the Personal. Accessories such as close-up lenses were never made for the Mark II. Because of the slow shutter speeds a person had to be very careful about camera shake when using it.
Since this camera had a diagonal film path, a new cutter had to be designed for use with the Mark II Camera. Stereocraft had designed several prototype cutters while developing the original camera prototypes. However, the actual production model was similar in size
and shape to that of the Personal except it cut the film on the diagonal path.
The original plans, had this camera actually been produced in Portland using their models, called for two versions: an inexpensive model and a "top-of-the line" deluxe model. It is our opinion that a camera produced in Portland by Stereocraft Engineering would have been
far superior to the one that was finally
produced. The authors of this book greatly prefer the View-Master Personal camera for their own use, as do a lot of stereo photography using the View-Master system.
With a stereo camera on hand, could a stereo projector be far behind?
The View-Master "Stereo-matic 500" Projector was initially introduced in 1953. The first prototypes were made by melding two S-1 mono projectors together. Later, a two-bulb model was developed. From the information we can gather, it appears that the numbering
system for the Stereomatic Projectors matched that of the Personal camera. Meaning the first number off the line was 999.
William Gruber's creative genius was at work in the development of this projector. It was his idea to employ one-bulb along with using mirrors to direct the light. In the final production models, the interocular adjustment was coupled to the focus. The changer plate (a fantastic design) did the rest; adjusting the film alignment by a single lever, counting the
scenes for you and activating a red light when you reached the seventh scene to let you know to change reels. The unit used one CZX bulb of 500 watts. The projected scenes were very bright and the clarity achieved from the small images was amazing.
The degree of quality in the View-Master
"Stereo-matic 500" projector was
unmistakable. It was highly praised at its
introduction as one of the best on the market and an indispensable part of the View-Master "family" of photographic products. Unfortunately, stereo projection was not very popular with the public at large. Sitting for long periods of time wearing Polarized glasses was not easy, and you had to make numerous
adjustments during stereo projections to keep the image properly aligned. This concept seemed too cumbersome to most people, thus sales were never very brisk.
The "Stereo-matic 500" projector continued to be part of the View-Master product line even during the early days of the GAF. It was last featured in the company's 1976 catalog.
The projector was available in several colors including light beige, three-tone brown and black. Lenses were available in two sizes: 3" and 2 1/4" versions. Models made at the end of the production run included a 110/220
voltage switch on the base of the projector.
Advertisements of the period encouraged the potential buyer to consider the complete View-Master stereo system. This included the following items:
• View-Master Personal Stereo Camera
• Flash Attachment
• Camera Carrying Case
• Type "A" Filters
• Close-Up Attachments
• Personal Film Cutter
• View-Master Stereoscope
• "Stereo-matic 500" Projector
In 1956, Sawyers acquired the assets of
Stereocraft Engineering. Their research &
development department as well as their
manufacturing facilities became part of the overall View-Master family.
The change was not evident in many aspects because Stereocraft had devoted most of its' time to View-Master specific work prior to the consolidation.
When the merger was completed Gordon
Smith left his position at View-Master and began spending more time with his gardens and orchards (the Smith family and the Kurz family jointly owned a filbert orchard in Beaverton). Karl Kurz remained with the company until his retirement in 1967.
It seems hard to believe that those early
machines, originally crafted in 1945, are the same machines producing View-Master reels today. This feat, together with the fact that thousands of Personal cameras are still being used by stereo photographers today, seems to be a fitting tribute to the quality work
performed by Stereocraft Engineering.
View-Master Personal stereo camera next to Stereomatic 500 View-Master projector and maroon reel album
View-Master prototype film cutter designed and made by Karl Kurz
Final View-Master 35mm film cutter made by Stereocraft Eng.
View-Master stereo projector (with pointer!) prototype from front made by Karl Kurz by Susan Pinsky
View-Master stereo projector (with pointer, see knob!) prototype from back made by Karl Kurz by Susan Pinsky
Excerpts from this excellent, comprehensive book on the history of View-Master from Sawyer's through GAF, and the variety of owners. Used with permission from the authors. To order the "View-Master Memories" book directly contact Mary Ann Sell at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paperback - First printing July 2000
Third printing Jan 2007
Told by well known collectors Mary Ann and Wolfgang Sell along with long time View-Master employee Charley Van Pelt. Nowhere else can you find the information included in this book.
Gordon Novatny Smith
1909 - 1982
73 years old
Gordon Smith and Karl Kurz at left, with View-Master reel-making machine they had just produced
Gordon Smith with TDC Vivid camera with Stereocraft employee
View-Master 16mm prototype camera made by Karl Kurz
camera designer, photo by David Starkman
View-Master stereo projector (with pointer, see knob!) prototype from side made by Karl Kurz by Susan Pinsky
With sincere and deepest thanks to Mary Ann and Wolfgang Sell for generously sharing remarkable fragments of this View-Master story. The entire saga is a piece of the story of America in the late 1940's, '50s and '60's. It is utterly fascinating and well documented.
I recommend this book to anyone who finds this story of interest. You will enjoy the rest of this 302 page book thoroughly.