he invented the View-Master
1903 - 1965 62 years old
1970 Norma Lenz Gruber, completed the Chinese Art Set, with Jean Brost as The Gruber Foundation, with the help of Rupert Leach, after her husband William's death
Then and Now
by John Dennis
reprinted from Stereo World - March/April 1984 Vol. 11. No. 1
Over one billion reels and a hundred million viewers have been sold since the View-Master's introduction. Partly an estimate, the tally was done a few years ago and any exaggeration that might have crept into the figures has been wiped out by the millions sold in the meantime.
This means that over seven billion color stereo images have been seen by who knows how many people through those 100 million viewers. Market research shows that up to 85% of the public has heard of View-Master, and few products can come close to that level. In fact, when you find yourself faced by one of those painfully exasperating people who seem incapable of grasping the concept of a stereoscope, the most effective recourse is still to say,
"You know, like a View-Master"!
There are of course aspects of View-Master that leave its format and content open to specific criticism, but if planet-wide popularity and plain staying power mean anything at all, the little discs with the notches on top must be regarded as a vital part of the history and potential of stereo imaging. As much as anywhere else, the history of View-Master began
underground . . . . .
AN IDEA & A WISH
Visiting the Oregon Caves in the summer of 1938, William and Norma Gruber had arrived at the final point of the tour where the guide invited people to rub a "wishing
stone" just before returning to the bright daylight of southern Oregon. Norma Gruber stopped to rub the stone after her husband, a practical minded Portland piano tuner and amateur stereo photo-grapher, had walked on past the polished stone He turned and asked, "What do you think you're doing?" "I'm just wishing that something would happen to your idea!" she told him.
William Gruber's "idea" involved the use of 16mm Kodachrome movie film in a compact viewer for the inexpensive mass production of full color stereo trans-parencies. In the late 1930s, only a few amateurs like himself had made 3-D
slide pairs on the popular new Koda-chrome film. Commercial stereograph production was still limited to black and white - whether in the remaining Keystone output or the "modern" 35mm filmstrips from Tru-Vue. Gruber was an avid stereo enthusiast who had assembled several of his own paired camera rigs. He was certain that the combination of color and stereo could be popular and profitable - if only someone with the needed capital and business base could be found.
With his stereo rig (a tripod-mounted pair of Kodak Bantam Specials) on his shoulder, William Gruber walked out of the cave exit and directly in front of Harold Graves - who was attempting to photograph some deer. Stereo cameras were just as good for starting conver- sations then as they are now, and instead of asking Gruber to move, Graves' question was, "What kind of a camera do you have there?".
Harold Graves was president of Sawyer's, a Portland photo finishing and post card company in desperate need of a new and profitable business idea. Few details are
known of that first conversation, but Norma Gruber remembers hearing William say at one point, "Well, you're just the person I've been wanting to meet". That evening, the two men talked long into the night in the Oregon Caves Chateau, going over details of how 16mm images could be spaced on a reel at the proper 2 1/2 inch separation for the eyepieces of a simple stereoscope - and how seven pairs would fit in an alternating sequence that would
repeat without presenting any upside down pictures. Mr. Graves was impressed enough by the concept and its potential to waste no time in persuading the Sawyer's
partners that such a system would be an ideal new line for their company. (William Gruber was later to gladly credit his wife's timely rub of the stone for all that ensued.)
Sawyer's partner Edwin Mayer borrowed $50,000 from a relative for machinery and supplies to start production. The company had no money to offer Mr. Gruber for his
idea, so he accepted a percentage of future profits and went to work designing a machine to mount the tiny pieces of film in the reels - an essential element in any
commercial mass production of the new stereo transparencies. As a young man in Germany, Gruber had become a master piano tuner and an expert in the design and repair of organs and player pianos with their air-activated linkages. He applied this kind of precision craftsman-ship to the first "reel machine". With air hoses hissing and cutters and prongs chunking and clicking, workers sat
around the machine performing mounting functions that would be automated in later versions of the machines that today remain the heart of the View-Master reel production process.
When money ran low, Mr. Gruber would tune a few more pianos and then return to work on the machine, telling his wife, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if it made
enough money for two weeks vacation every year?". Despite their dedicated enthusiasm, it's doubtful that the people involved with the View-Master in 1938-39 had any idea how popular it would become and how many vacations it would pay for!
The original viewer (later dubbed the "Model A") was first sold with 15 scenic reels on blue stock with glued on gold labels containing the title and captions. A few, perhaps a little later, were done on tan-yellow stock with a blue ring encom-passing the scene windows. The most commonly found of the early reels are those on yellow stock with captions printed directly on the reels. (Some use yellow stock on one side and white on the
other.) All reels produced in 1939 and the early 1940s are printed with hand lettered captions without scene numbers. The blue and yellow reels have only a single notch at the top, but there are hand lettered white reels with a single notch as well as some with double notches. The notches
serve to position reel blanks in the mounting machines, and later machines were designed with register systems
requiring double notches. It's probably safe to assume that any double notched reel with type-set captions dates from after 1946, but more precise dating can be difficult. Reel numbers don't help much, as newly issued reels with some new scenes of old subjects kept the original number.
The name "View-Master" was apparently chosen by people within the Sawyer's organization. William Gruber according to his widow, hated the name - claiming it sounded too much like Mixmaster or Toastmaster. He had favored a more imaginative exotic name, but the easy product identity inherent in "View-Master" won out. Years later, a delightful vindication of his complaint about the name occurred when "Archie" cartoonist Bob Montana was sent a promotional View-Master and his young daughter
inserted one of the reels in the Toastmaster!
In late 1939, enough viewers and reels had been produced for the first regular sales of the product to begin in Portland. The View-Master's introduction to the rest of the world, however, came when it appeared at the New York and San Francisco World's Fairs in 1940. Public response to full color stereo in this new format was so positive that by 1941 a thousand dealers around the country were selling all the viewers and reels that Sawyer's could produce.
THE WAR YEARS
Sawyer's sudden new growth was cut short by World War II. Shortages of film, plastic and paper would have crippled the operation and possibly ended the View-
Master's existence if the army and navy hadn't recognized the visual training potential of View-Master's convenient
viewers and stereo images. Between 1942 and the war's end, about 100,000 viewers and 5 to 6 million reels were ordered by the military - assuring the plant a supply of raw materials and maintaining an active work force to help prepare for post war production. The training reels are mostly black and white and deal with ship identification (using models shot on a hazy set) and aircraft gunnery range estimation reels with range circles and model planes
in stereo. In 1943, the Model B viewer was introduced featuring a streamlined design, a stronger hinge, and heavier construction throughout. (The lightweight Model A could warp if left in the sun!)
With the end of the war, the public demand for viewers and reels exploded - having been kept alive by limited reel
production and advertising. By 1946 there were "stacks of requests" from stores asking to become View-Master dealers, but none had been added since 1942 because production couldn't even satisfy the needs of the original 1,000 dealers. Two new buildings were added to Sawyer's downtown Portland operation and new automated machinery was installed for increased production of reels and viewers. The company incorporated in 1946, an export department was established, and personnel grew to 150
people. At this point, Sawyer's was still one of the leading producers of postcards and photographic Christmas cards in the country but the expanding View-Master line was soon to put an end to those operations.
As early as May, 1946, plans for the creation of a View-Master stereo camera for amateur use was announced to the press. That same year, Stereocraft Engineering Company was established as an associated company to design and produce just that kind of totally new consumer product as well as specialized manufacturing equipment for Sawyer's.
That year also saw the introduction of the Model C viewer - the first to allow insertion of reels without opening the front of the viewer. Over the next ten years, this solid dependable device was distributed around the world in the millions and served as the basis for the design of all standard models to follow. Compared to any of the models before or after it the Model C is practically indestructible and a good percentage of these square, no-nonsense black viewers remain usable today.
By the early 1950s, Sawyer's had sold about 6 million viewers and production had increased enough to supply around 6,000 dealerships. In 1952, the then 300 employee company moved to a complex of new buildings designed to accom-modate such a growing operation in suburban Progress (near Beaverton), Oregon. The new plant was something of a showpiece of modern factory con-struction of the early 50s, and Sawyer's was one of the early companies to help inspire the creation of suburban "industrial parks" in years to follow. The new plant eased production bottlenecks and allowed output to come closer to meeting demand. Already the largest single consumer of Kodachrome 16mm Duplicating Film, Sawyer's became only
the second firm ever permitted by Kodak to do its own Kodachrome processing.
When Sawyer's purchased the Tru-Vue stereo filmstrip company of Rock Island, Illinois in 1951, they did more than eliminate the only serious competition in the field of stereo transparencies. Tru-Vue held the license to use Disney characters in their new line of color stereo filmstrips
aimed at the children's entertainment market - an area of increasing interest for Sawyer's since issuing their first fairy tale reels with subjects like "Little Red Riding Hood" in 1946. The plan was to redesign the whole Tru-Vue system into an efficient product (concentrating on children's stories, cartoons, and popular enter-tainment figures) that would sell in toy stores. While the new viewers and rectan- gular seven-scene cards were being designed, Sawyer's continued to sell some of the Tru-Vue color filmstrips in new boxes with the Beaverton address. (These are now among the most rare of all the Tru-Vue filmstrips. See STEREO WORLD July/August 1980.)
Tru-Vue was a completely separate operation within the View-Master plant with its own photo, advertising, and sales staff and different production equipment. Tru-Vue cards even used different film - the then-new Kodak Print Film using color negative originals rather than duplicating transparencies. With the help of Tru-Vue, Sawyer's was able for a few more years to maintain its concentration on scenic and educational subjects and its "image" as a
serious successor to the classic stereo-scope. Children's stories and cartoon characters continued to appear, of course, on reels and by the late 1950s were a significant part of View-Master's whole line.
CAMERAS AND PROJECTORS
One of the buildings at the new Sawyer's plant was occupied by Stereocraft Engineering Company. Headed by partners Karl Kurz and Gordon Smith, the company designed and built the View-Master Personal Stereo Camera (intro-duced in 1952) and the Stereomatic 500
Projector (introduced in 1953). While the View-Master camera joined the 3-D photo-graphy boom a bit late compared to the Realist, it had a number of unique advan-tages to offer consumers over what had already become the "standard" Realist slide format. The View-Master camera, designed by Gordon Smith, featured the "Film Miser" lens shift that allowed a strip of pictures to be taken along the bottom half of the 35mm film. Then, at the end of the roll a turn of the center knob on the front of the camera moved the lenses up so that a strip of pictures could fill the top half of the film as it was rewound. With 37 pairs to a "20 exposure" roll of film, the camera gave more rather than fewer stereos per roll. Awkward as the camera might seem today, it was relatively "user friendly" compared to its competition - once you got used to the lens-shift system.
Perhaps its biggest advantage was the fact that 6 million people already had viewers, and personal reels could be shared among family and friends with the assumption that anyone who didn't already have a viewer could get one for under two dollars at virtually any department, camera, or souvenir store.
The main drawback, of course, was the task of properly mounting the tiny images in the personal reels. While they offered a mounting service for already processed
film, Sawyer's main emphasis was on the sale of View-Master film cutters and blank reels for people to mount (and edit) their own reels. Including the cost of film,
processing, and reels, each view came to about 12 cents ("Less than snapshots" was the line featured in Sawyer's ads). The personal reel mounting service offered by Sawyer's involved no automated equipment beyond employees with film cutters and white gloves, and the company didn't exactly promote the service in the camera's ads - even the instruction booklet packed with the camera omitted mention of it (it was explained on a separate slip of paper).
For "serious" stereo photographers, the small image size was almost an addition of insult-to-injury; the Realist format being small enough already! Sawyer's own photographers generally used nothing smaller than the Busch Verascope f40 camera with its horizontal format, and
usually employed paired combinations of full-frame cameras. The fixed-focus View-Master camera also left something of a void in the "normal" close up range of 4 to 6 feet, where images would be acceptable only if conditions allowed stopping down to f/16. Besides that, there were no reels with narrow "close up" windows, as offered in standard format stereo slides. For close ups at 24 to 36 inches, prism/
lenses were available to snap on the front of the camera.
While the View-Master Personal Camera never came close to dominating the 3-D boom of the 50s, (about 25,000 made) it was sturdy and many are still in use - with
personal reels still available. For many stereo photographers, there is something very appealing about seeing your views securely mounted in permanent order in a
reel. The quality of original transparencies can of course exceed even the best commercial duplicate reels, so personal
View-Master stereos can rank among the best 3-D images produced. - In the mid 1950s, some Sawyer's employees formed a club called "The Stereo Shutterbugs" and went on regular outings around the Portland area to shoot (and later vote on) groups of assigned stereo subjects.
The Stereo-matic 500 Projector is regarded by many as one of the most well designed stereo projectors ever made. Mirrors direct even light from a single 500 watt lamp through polarizers and 3 inch lenses that will project up to a 50 inch image. Horizontal separation of the images is coupled to focusing, so the only other controls on the projector are a vertical alignment lever and the scene change lever.
Three official Sawyer's publications existed that today provide a wealth of background information, statistics, and delightful trivia relating to View-Master products and the people who made them. THE DEALERSCOPE was started in 1948 "To make available interesting facts
about View-Master dealers, selling methods, promotions, and other subjects . . Distributed to the thousands of View-Master dealers, it often covered far more than just the sales-hype promotional gimmicks limiting other such wholesaler-to-retailer newsletters. For the employees,
Sawyer's NEWSREEL was later followed by NEWS AND VIEWS, which was published until the company as purchased by GAF in 1966.
NEWSREEL and NEWS AND VIEWS ran the usual stories of employee retirements, babies, vacations, and softball games. But the unique nature of the View-Master
product, in its accumulation of images from all over the world and its equally wide distribution system, resulted in a
fascinating range of articles and photos (all flat) in these company magazines. An account of photographer Rupert Leach's 1956 trip through Russia was illustrated with several photos and required three installments in the NEWSREEL. A photo in one DEALERSCOPE shows him during a visit to India, talking to Indira Gandhi while in the background Prime Minister Nehru is busy looking through a View-Master.
The wide popularity of View-Master becomes evident from reading even a few of the company publications. More than just buying them and stashing them away in a closet, people really used and enjoyed the product in a way that seems charming but unlikely today. There are stories of teen-agers with collections of hundreds of reels and of people buying over $100 worth at a time from dealers. One girl sent in a 44 line poem she had written about her View-Master! A story in a 1949 DEALERSCOPE tells of a student in the African Gold Coast offering in a letter to
trade monkey skins for more View-Master reels to add to his collection. From both Mexico and India came stories of young street merchants offering the equivalent of penny-a-peek looks through a View-Master tied to a pole. Perhaps best of all is a story from a 1966 NEWS AND VIEWS
concerning a man from Ghana who added this P.S. to an order for a viewer and some packets:
"Please when sending me some of your View-Master products, kindly put them in a strong package otherwise they will be stolen. Please kindly write on the package in which the products are in this phrase:
'HE WHO WILL STEAL THIS WILL GO MAD' in order to frighten the messengers so that they may not steal it."
The Sawyer's plant itself was one of the more popular attractions among local industries open for tours. In 1956 alone a team of guides took "well over 2000 people" through the plant including everyone from school classes to cub scout troops to tourists to foreign visitors. While
View-Master photographers received no credit on the reels, they did get frequent attention in company publications. The first issue of the DEALERSCOPE carries a
front page story on a 1948 visit by Rupert Leach to Israel in the midst of the violence surrounding the establishment of the new state. Leach was Sawyer's photographic director and the story reports that the same trip took him through England, Switzerland, France, Ireland, Palestine, Syria, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and South Africa. "He brought back close to 4,000 pictures."
Fred Bennion succeeded Rupert Leach as photographic director, and a 1962 NEWS AND VIEWS article relates his work photographing a staged story packet called "FBI Agent" (#B700) at the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. One scene involved J. Edgar Hoover welcoming a new agent, and Bennion was granted exactly two minutes to shoot the scene - which Sawyer's claimed to be "the
only stereo picture of J. Edgar Hoover in existence". Photographer Weldon King covered the background and launch
of John Glenn's 1962 space flight. An article in NEWS AND VIEWS detailed the tight coordination of several Sawyer's
departments in getting the film processed and reels made for a special packet ("America's Man In Space") (*B657) that was ready for sale in New York in time for Glenn's ticker tape parade - exactly one week after the flight!
William Gruber himself, though never an actual Sawyer's employee, did photography for several special projects
and stereographed Pope Pius XII at ceremonies in Rome. Some people have assumed that he did much of the
stereography for early View-Master reels, but he was too busy perfecting the reel mounting machinery to help build up the original image library in 1938-39. By 1941 and 1942, Gruber was able to travel around the country with Ladd Goodman making stereos of scenic attractions.
CUSTOM AND ADVERTISING REELS
From the beginning, custom made reels for commercial promotions have been a part of the View-Master operation - generally with a minimum of 1,000 reels per order.
Sawyer's quite actively promoted this service, and large orders for custom reels were often announced in the company publications. No single list of all the firms to have done reels seems to have survived, but they included Nash cars, Seagram's whiskey, Lyon's kitchens, Coleman
furnaces, White Stag sportswear, and Steiner towels. One of the more unusual applications was the "Visa-Dine" View-Master stereo-illustrated menu at the Ganzt Steak House in Sioux City, Iowa. With the printed menu card came a viewer and a reel with views of the seven different dinners offered. Customer reaction had been so good that the owner intended to place viewers in all the nearby
Some of the most sought-after of all the custom reels of the l950s are the 3-D Movie Preview reels that appeared in special (probably sealed) viewers in theater lobbies in 1953-54. The reels and viewers where ordered by the National Screen Service Corporation, but "Preview Kits" were also distributed to any View-Master dealer who subscribed to the service. Included were monthly shipments of a reel and posters for each upcoming
3-D movie from, most of the major studios. The idea was to "make dramatic traffic-stopping tie-ins with the widely acclaimed
3-D movies now showing in all parts of the country". Preview reels sent out in August 1954 were: "Those Redheads From Seattle", "Wings of the Hawk" "Second
Chance . and "The Stranger Wore A Gun".
THE VIEW-MASTER BOOKS
William Gruber's ultimate hopes for the View-Master were that it could be a serious medium of educational information and photographic expression as well as a commercial success. The general feeling was shared by Sawyer's management and, in effect, the company became a publishing house for stereo-illustrated books - some originated by Sawyer's itself and others done for outside
individuals or institutions. The publications ranged from the elegant 33 reel "Mushrooms in Their Natural Habitat"
complete with Model C viewer, to brief medical monographs with a few reels and a plastic folding viewer. Most of the books were medical - one year's list alone names 24 reel-illustrated books with titles like "Cochlear Anatomy", "Arteries of the Brain", "Atlas of the Uterine Cervix" etc.
Vets are represented by "Stereo Atlas of Small Animals Surgery" and several dental subjects are covered as well.
Some books intended for Sawyer's own popular market included reels but no viewer. These included "Alpine Wild- flowers", "Succulent Plants", and "Unlocking Earth's Secrets". The last on the list was an explanation of basic geology intended to kick off a "Visualore" series of
consumer-oriented science books using the best possible stereo photography to reveal basic concepts. Portland journalist and free lance writer Claude Baskett was hired
to write the text, and when the series idea was dropped he stayed on as a staff writer of the booklets in the Sawyer's and later GAF packets on science, history, and numerous other subjects.
By far the most ambitious projects were the large, multi-volume book and reel sets photographed by William Gruber exploring subjects of specialized interest. With a solid text by Dr. Alexander Smith, "The Mushroom Book" (as it's come to be known) remains unequaled in its field
for the dramatic realism of its illustrations. Its main draw-back is that it can't be taken into the woods easily for on-the-spot identification. Finding and photographing in close up stereo the 231 examples took over a decade, and "Mushrooms In Their Natural Habitats" was finally pub-
lished in 1950.
With Dr. David Bassett, William Gruber photographed every section of the human body (literally inside and out) using the facilities and prepared examples at the Stanford Medical School. The book, "A Stereoscopic Atlas of Human Anatomy" uses sequences that move into deeper and
closer stereo detail showing various structures of the body. Some stereo x-rays are included as well as shots of dye-injected blood vessels. The largest and most recent project was "Chinese Art in Three Dimensional Color" by Harry M. Garner and Margaret Medley. Mr. Gruber
traveled all over the world doing stereo photography of Chinese art objects in public and private collections including objects in nearly every material from the Neolithic period to the end of the Ch'ing dynasty in 1912.
William Gruber died in 1965 before the work was completed. When asked about a fitting memorial for her husband, Norma Gruber asked that the book be finished, and Rupert Leach was brought back to work at View-Master to complete the photography. Due to fears that GAF,
which had just purchased Sawyer's, might not take the project seriously the "Gruber Foundation" was formed to finish and market the four-volume, 1,258 view set, which was published in 1969.
The reels are in folios bound into the front and back of each volume and the set includes a lighted focusing viewer on a special stand. Unlike any of the other View-Master books, this set is still available from Reel 3-D Enterprises.
Sawyer's also published a series of "Correlated Classroom Materials" for grade schools consisting of combined
books, records and View-Master reels in the late 1950s.
Sets were available on music, science, and children's stories, but most of the offerings in the catalog are "supplementary" and consist of the regular three-reel packets selected for their educational subject matter.
INTO THE 1960s
In the late 1950s, original Sawyer's partner and general manager Edwin Mayer had died and Harold Graves, president since 1930, had retired. In 1959, Robert Brost of the Chicago office became company president and began a program of modernizing production, products, and management. By 1963 there were 660 employees with an annual payroll nearing $3 million annually.
According to a former sales executive, one of the most important single elements in the increasing sales of the 1960s was the introduction of shrink-wrap packaging to
View-Master reel packets. The packets had already nearly completely replaced sales of single reels, and the new plastic wrapping process safely sealed the reels in the packets insuring longer shelf-life - a big difference for retailers tired of paper envelopes which quickly became dusty and faded looking. The glossy new look of View-Master products brought new displays in new outlets, but also brought the era of the open-backed envelope inside
the plastic - a frustration for collectors for years to come. The seemingly incomplete envelopes allowed a dealer code to be impressed through the plastic of an already wrapped packet into a piece of carbon paper inside. This resulted in the store's number appearing on the reel list
order form, so that even if the customer ordered future packets directly from the factory, the dealer would get a commission.
THE FOREIGN CONNECTION
Sawyer's had established a major distribution center in Chicago in 1949, and in 1952 Sawyer's Europe was established
as an affiliated organization in Belgium to serve countries where monetary or trade restrictions made trade with the U S. plant difficult. At one point, Sawyer's operations also existed in India and Japan, but most trade continued to flow from the main Oregon plant - which in 1964 was awarded the President's "E" Flag for a 75%
advance in export sales in the previous 3 years.
The Belgium operation grew into a major manufacturing and design center with its own versions of the current viewer models, its own reel printing and mount- ing equipment, and its own packaging styles and innovations. As with many other things, the 3-D photography boom came later to Europe and lasted longer (interest having been more steady for years). In 1962, the Belgium plant intro- duced the View-Master Mark II stereo camera to the European market. Its diagonal film path allowed the full
width of a roll of 35mm film to be filled with View-Master format images on a single pass through the camera. The
concept seems to have been an inde- pendent solution to the format problem, although it had been proposed ten years earlier in a rejected design for the new Sawyer's Tru-Vue viewer and for the never-built "Personnette" camera. The Mark II was a light weight and less expensive stereo camera of far simpler design than the Personal. Sawyer's saw the 3-D boom as over in this country, and
didn't promote the new camera here with anything like the effort made on the Personal (on which production had
ended in 1956). It was introduced in the U.S. for $78.50 - much lower than the initial price of the Personal - and remained on reel lists from 1963 to 1965 with its special film cutter listed in dealer's catalogs until 1975.
THE GAF YEARS
By 1966 Sawyer's had over 9,000 retailers in the U.S. alone and sales had grown from $9 million in 1963 to $29 million in 1965-66. Employment had grown to 1,300 with more working during peak periods. Three shifts were required and special parking arrangements had to be made
along with a traffic director on duty between shifts! The company was simply growing faster than its resources - both physical and financial.
When General Aniline & Film Corporation (the current incarnation of the original E. & H.T. Anthony Co.) offered to buy Sawyer's, the management and main stockholders expressed interest and meetings were soon being held to explain the move to employees along with stories in NEWS AND VIEWS. At an October 1966 stockholder's meeting the promise of continued growth with a larger organ- izatization (combined with the prospect of increased value for their shares) resulted in a solid vote for the acquisition with less
than one percent of the shares voting against the proposal. Sawyer's had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the
GAF conglomerate - retaining its local management and providing to GAF a photographic equipment manufacturing arm to go with the film production division of GAF.
People at Sawyer's had been given the impression that the company would be allowed to retain the Sawyer's name, but that, like the publication NEWS AND VIEWS, was soon to disappear along with more and more of the kind of employee morale that had taken the company so
far since 1939. The View-Master had become a minor item in the busy high-level dealings of one of the country's
largest corporations. Attention to promotion of View-Master products was spotty, and hardly kept pace with the changing markets of the 1970s and 80s - even though a number of new products were introduced. After producing one last viewer under the GAF name, the Tru-Vue
line was dropped and the eventual move of most View-Master subject matter into the toy oriented market was signaled. Fortunately, some interesting lines started by Sawyer's were followed up - as with the "World of Science" packets and the "Old Time View" series using high quality
copies of Keystone views to fill packets on old cars, planes, ships, etc. With the best reels of the Nature packets and "World Travel" packets like the 1972 "Inside China Today", enough was produced to maintain at least some awareness of the View-Master's potential.
Even the move to an emphasis on entertainment subjects wasn't enough to guarantee sales, and GAF introduced
some new 2-D projectors and the 3-D Talking View-Master to try to regain growth in the market. But for a device intended mainly for children's stories, the GAF Talking View-Master required five steps (and usually the help of an equally frustrated adult) just to get a reel started properly! Even then, sound quality was atrocious at best and the translucent records made a burlesque of the concept of a light diffuser.
Perhaps the most basic change that GAF made in the product was the switch from Kodachrome duplicating film as the stock used in View-Master reels to a Kodak
print film similar to that used in Tru-Vue cards and employing a color negative as the "original" from which the 16mm final prints are made. While the deep color
saturation and permanence of Koda-chrome are lost, there is more control of color balance and contrast through the
intermediate step of creating the best possible "internegative" from which to work. Permanence, perhaps, was seen
as less important in a reel of "Scooby Doo" than it had been in a reel of the World's Fair - the latter probably being stored carefully in the same drawer as the family
photo album, and the former as likely to be stored in a box somewhere under the couch with the Barbie clothes and bubble soap.
News of layoffs at View-Master were seen in the Portland press through the late 1970s, and by 1979 the total employment figure had dropped from about 1,500 (in
1966) to around 250. The entire GAF empire was coming apart at that point - and they had sold or were trying to sell the film manufacturing and processing divisions and the roofing material division among other enterprises that had been acquired in recent years. In late 1980 GAF
announced that the entire View-Master operation in Oregon and Belgium was up for sale - along with seven other GAF businesses. Within a year, businessman Arnold Thaler had assembled a limited partnership and with the help of Integrated Resources Inc. of New York, had
purchased View-Master under the name View-Master International Group for a reported $24 million. Some change was evident in a matter of months in store display racks. Packets, some with the GAF name still in the corner, were starting to be packed in blister-pack cards with bold new graphics and colors. Gradually, the
View-Master name was clearly featured again on viewers boxes, and packets as the new company restocked the racks with its own product - including the new packaging treatment for the reels, now naked to the world within their plastic bubbles on hanging cards.
Collectors and enthusiasts who might have hoped for a return to the View-Master of the "Mushroom Book" days
were, however, due for disappointment and even disgust. Even the few science, nature, and old-time view packets
that GAF had carried were no longer in store displays. The rule seemed suddenly to be "If it's not from TV, the movies or the funnies, it can't be on a View-Master reel."
Worse yet, when the packet based on the movie "E.T." appeared, it was found to be made up of all flat images - some very skillfully separated into different planes for some 3-D effect. It all seemed a bit depressing for the work of a company that had added to its name, "The 3-D
The View-Master International manage-ment is well aware of the criticism and equally well aware of the much
narrower market open to their products. As easy as it is to blame television for virtually any problem, its importance
in the matter of public awareness of and need for images (scenic, scientific, or event oriented) is very direct. Today's color television programming provides a variety of interesting images far beyond those available by the flick of a switch in the 1950s and 60s. A few hours of "Nova" or
"National Geographic Special" can provide more picture information than a hundred science or natural history packets -
and for most people, movement provides as much of an added dimension ti the images as does 3-D. The entertainment packets find a successful market not despite the similarity to television shows, but because the characters and stories are identical to what was on the screen - like buying a poster or T-shirt or lunch box of
your favorite character. Scenic, science, or nature reels can't achieve this identifica-tion with any specific personality or story, and may be regarded by most people now as rather static generalizations of the detailed, moving images they've
already seen on TV.
The stereo aspect of the images in entertainment packets may, in fact, be somewhat incidental to the personality
recognition factor of just having the familiar character "in hand". (This may be much of the reason that complaints
about the flat images in the "E.T." packet came mainly from stereo purists and collectors.) Young children are even less impressed by the 3-D in their reels of favorite characters, and many may not be able to see 3-D through the viewer at all. A study at Purdue University found that
only half of children between 4 and 5 could see 3-D through a View-Master. Many use only one eye due to overly wide
viewer lens spacing, inability to under- stand the viewer, developmental problems associated with eye muscles, or simply the habit of holding the viewer with a hand over one of the diffusers!
Sales figures for non-entertainment packets in recent years tell much of the story behind current policy. Coverage of the recent visit to the U.S. by the Pope involved an event that drew huge crowds, and yet the packet sold poorly. Similar timely coverage of John Glenn's space flight in 1962 sold well, and the packet covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II sold nearly Vl million copies. The recent Royal Wedding packet on the other hand, sold only a few thousand even in Europe!
The GAF series of packets using repro-ductions of old Keystone views sold well for the first year or so of release (30,000 to 40,000 each) but sales dropped off sharply once the specialized market was saturated. Scenic packets had been relatively poor sellers for some time even during the GAF years. In some cases,
they did well only in the area near the subject of the packet. Whether they could have been promoted more effectively and with more imagination than GAF showed
is of course open to debate. It would have been interesting to have seen what Sawyer's strategy would have been in
Several people interviewed at View-Master International made the point that the cost of keeping scenic packets up to date and introducing new ones has gone up considerably and would today no longer be matched by sales - even if sales could be improved. Many of them also
pointed out that scenic and specialized packets are still made as custom orders to be sold in or around attraction like Knotts Berry Farm, the NASA Space Center, Cypress Gardens, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
One potential "event packet" that was impossible to ignore was the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, only 50 miles from the View-Master plant. The day of the big
eruption, View-Master Senior photo- grapher Hank Gaylord was flying back from assignment in the east when his
plane flew directly over the billowing ash cloud. His cameras were right there with him, but all the film had been safely packed away and checked in with the luggage! Later, two trips were made over the mountain to obtain stereo pairs that could be used in reels, despite the lack of
any interest on the part of the GAF main office in New York. Nothing would per-suade them that this was more than just another "journalistic" matter beyond the scope of View-Master.
Current View-Master Creative Direc-tor Gary Evans relates that talk around the plant was that the eruption would have been covered if it had occurred in New York. (It's not hard to imagine the hoards of stereographers who would have been scrambling up through the ash if the eruption had occurred in 1880!)
THE EUROPEAN DIFFERENCE
The View-Master plant in Belgium con-tinues under the new company to be a separate operation with its own models of views, its own selection of subjects and its own marketing strategy. In Europe, scenic subjects are still marketed along with TV, Fairy Tale, and Cartoon subjects and the multitude of nationalities within the marketing area makes the situation different. Scenics, for example, are color coded (on blue cards) under the heading "Countries" and the total volume of any particular packet is much lower than in the U.S. Packets are printed in at least
16 different languages, but not every subject is issued in every language and some reels are printed with additional
languages on the back side. To whatever one attributes the cultural differences, scenic stereoviews do find more of a market in Europe. Besides View-Master International there are two companies in France producing Tru-Vue style scenic cards (Lestrade and Bruguiere) for the European market.
One of the biggest selling packets of all time is the Belgium produced set of reels on Mecca. "Makkah Mukarrama" is also sold as a gift box with 4 reels of Mecca
and a viewer, and a good percentage of the pilgrims to the Holy Shrine apparently buy one as a visual token of their visit. The Belgium plant also markets one of the most imaginative View-Master oriented games yet devised. Called "Pyramido", it consists of a set of plastic pieces that
can only be assembled into the proper three dimensional form by study of the game's View-Master reels.
A PACKET'S PROGRESS
Decisions concerning just what TV or movie characters and stories to use for packets (actually they're now called
"Cards") depend on complex matters of market research and arrangements for licensing the use of some very valuable "properties" - names, faces, stories, and drawings. For a feature involving live story photography, the first step in actual production generally involves a review of
the film or program script by the View-Master staff writer and photographer to determine if and how it can be translated into an entertaining packet. Senior Writer/Developer Jane Davies explained that she then writes a list of scenes that seem important to the story for the photographer to try to capture in stereo. The complex shooting schedules required in TV and movies often make this hard, since locations may be miles apart and story sequences in different order. The stereography is nearly always done during rehearsals, and even then, the sound of the paired Nikons used by View-Master can require moving back from the set and using a pair of longer lenses. (An advantage of the twin SLR rig, and of its wider than normal separation, is that 105mm lenses can be used without loss of stereo effect.)
The eventual scenes used in the reels (and the captions) depend largely on what the photographer is able to get on the set or location of the production. Good shots involving sub-plots or minor characters in a story can present a real challenge in caption writing, and can sometimes require the use of split frames to explain the action within the 21 scene limit. Once the 21 scenes are chosen, "internegatives"
are made of each original transparency on 70mm color negative film. Any cropping or image combinations are done at this stage, and the processed negatives are checked on a video color analyzer to determine as closely as possible the correct color balance to be achieved in the next step - the printing of thousands of frames (after test reels are made) of each right and left negative on 16mm print film.
After careful checking, the processed film is sent to the reel mounting machines where these masterpieces of pre-compu-terized automation cut and mount the frames from 14 spools of film onto each waiting reel blank at a pace and rhythm that has an almost hypnotic effect on most visitors. After a trip through a packaging machine that combines reels into sets of three and seals them on
their cards, the story is ready for shipment and sale.
Sales of the new Talking View-Master had been "good" according to an executive at the Portland View-Master International Group Headquarters. Although store shelves haven't been cleared out by customers fighting over them, sales have been close to the expected level for a new and fairly expensive toy department item. Many parents probably remember the clumsy, doll-voiced GAF Talking View- Master of a few years ago and hesitate to spend money on anything that reminds them of it. This could mean a slow sales growth for the new product despite its nearly total improvement over the old design.
Sales of the new Talking View-Master had been "good" according to an executive at the Portland View-Master International Group Headquarters. Although store shelves haven't been cleared out by customers fighting over them, sales have been close to the expected level for a new and fairly expensive toy department item. Many parents probably remember the clumsy, doll-voiced GAF Talking View- Master of a few years ago and hesitate to spend money on anything that reminds them of it. This could mean a slow sales growth for the new product despite its nearly total improvement over the old design. With only two controls (an insert/remove button and the scene change lever) the new viewer chimes into life as soon as a record/reel card is inserted, and from that point you just listen and look - guided by the automatic electronic tone. As improved as the sound quality is, it's limited by the 2 inch speaker and the relatively slow speed of the
small record. The release of more talking reels will help sales somewhat, but the big test is the release (and degree of success with a slightly older market) of the Talking
packet of Michael Jackson's "Thriller".
View-Master Creative Director Gary Evans sees considerable potential for the Talking View-Master in the rock music "video" image field - depending on the response
to the "Thriller" reels. The possible stereoscopic effects that could be used in the already richly imaginative world
of "MTV" type productions are limited only by the mind and eye muscles of the observer. With some video 3-D segments already history, rock videos could lead (and finance) the next generation of stereoscopic innovation. View-Master is now in the fortunate position of being
able to provide handy, color 3-D stills (complete with sound track) of any such productions whether the originals
are in 3-D or not.
People at the View-Master plant were confident that careful planning of on-set stereo photography would mean no more flat packets like "E.T." would be produced to contradict the company's slogan "The 3-D Company". Late last year, the public sale of stock was announced, and
shortly after it was learned that the stock certificates would indeed be in 3-D! Actually, the design is a perfectly
dignified anaglyph of the company name in front of a globe to convey the international nature of the corporation.
Company representatives were unwilling to be more specific about upcoming 3-D products beyond saying that there is a good deal of interest in motion images combined with stereo. No one was willing to comment on the possibility of a talking projector, 2-D or 3-D, although with the records in the path of the light as with the old version, the design would seem more practical.
Whatever one thinks of the current range of subject matter, View-Master as a company and as an established
stereo format is again committed to true stereoscopic imaging and the development of systems to maintain a
market for it.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
View-Master employees in the 1950's
at their "Stereo Shutterbugs" meeting
Fred Bennion Portland OR with commemorative plaque by Marilyn Felling
1989 Portland OR View-Master Factory Susan Pinsky and Gary Evans
by David Starkman
Robert V. Brost
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: email@example.com
View-Master Memories Paperback – 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.
William B. Gruber - View-Master Inventor
by Mary Ann & Wolfgang Sell
William (Wilhelm) Gruber was born in Munich, Germany in 1903, the youngest of three boys. The Gruber's were an average middle-class family of the period.
For many generations his family was involved in the blacksmith business
making undercarriages for wagons. During William's youth, they lived in various locations throughout Munich. Although not considered wealthy, the family gave him piano lessons and he was lucky enough to have a camera.
It was a very close knit family, but William was a bit rebellious as he felt he was not destined to work in the family business. At age 10 he became interested in photography and won several photo contests in Germany. He thought he would like to become a photographer and, at age 13, he started working for a photography studio. However, he soon gave up that idea because he had to be in the darkroom all of the time and that didn't suit his personality.
From there, he began to work on typewriters but gave that up as well. One day he was walking along the main street when, across the street, he saw a beautiful woman in a sari dress--she was from India. She was so gorgeous that he looked into a nearby window in order not to stare at her. Because of the narrow streets her reflection showed in the store window and he continued to look at her until she had passed.
After she was gone, he looked into the store itself to see what it con-tained. It was a piano store! He decided then and there that he was going to be a piano and organ builder. At age 13, that became his trade.
As he grew older and perfected his trade, he came to know various people in and around Munich. One of these people was an American colonel who had retired to Germany after World War I. This particular gentleman, Colonel Kunderatt, had a Welty player piano that had become one of William's specialties.
At the time, the Welty was a very famous player piano and all of the great pianists made master rolls for this piano. Musicians like Horowitz, and Rachmaninoff were devotees of the Welty thus making it very popular. Because of his ability to repair these complex instruments, the colonel arranged for William to get a job in Los Angeles and immigrate to Amer-ica.
William had brilliant foresight because he bought a master key roll that was made by Welty when he first began his piano repair career in Germany. Since the piano could not be repaired without the key roll, his talent was in demand. The company he was to work for in Los Angeles sold the Welty pianos but they did not have a key roll so that they could repair the mechanism and they were eager for him to come over. He was 21 years old when he came to the United States.
Upon his arrival in New York, several men came to Ellis Island selling the new emigrants railroad tickets to other destinations throughout the country. William bought a ticket to Los Angeles, only to find out later that the ticket was bogus. He had just enough money to get to Portland, Oregon where he knew some-one else from Munich. Upon his arrival in Portland, his friend put an ad in the newspaper stating that there was a piano tuner available directly from Germany. Thus, he earned enough money to get to Los Angeles and the long awaited promised job. After finally reaching Los Angeles, he met with the piano dealer as originally planned. However, the piano dealer said to him "I'm sorry, I know we promised you $35 a week but we can only pay you $25.00 a week." William said "No, thank you," and took the train back to Portland. He had been earning money there repairing pianos and knew he could continue this on a regular basis. He loved the Pacific Northwest area because it reminded him of so much of his native Germany.
Meeting & Marrying Norma Lenz
During this time, Norma Lenz was growing up in Eastern Oregon. Her father died when she was only two years old and her mother and
stepfather raised her. They were not very well off and, in order to have enough money to attend high school, Norma worked as a housemaid. After working for one family in Eastmorland for three years, a friend asked if she would like to work for the Collins family in Irvington. The Collins family was somewhat prominent in the area since Mr. Collins was a partner in the Collins & Erwin Piano Company.
After working for them in this capacity for about a year, a girl in the office at the piano company left there to work in Los Angeles. Mr. Collins asked Norma if she would like to work as his bookkeeper/ secretary. Because of her education at a commercial high school, Norma had the necessary skills to do the job. Although she originally planned to be a nurse, she accepted the position at Collins & Erwin.
It was here at the Collins & Erwin Company where William met Norma in 1935. He asked her out but she refused because she felt he was too short, although she was impressed with his "scrubbed" look and neat appearance. William asked her out every day for six months till she finally said yes. They had so much fun that she decided that his height didn't make any difference. They were married in 1938.
Norma & William were married on a Saturday and, on the following Tuesday, William went into the hospital for a hernia operation. Friends made fun of poor Norma asking her what she had done to him on their honeymoon. It was during that time, in the hospital, that he thought of the idea of using movie film to make stereo pictures for use in a hand-held viewing device. He felt that his idea would make it inexpensive to have stereo pictures available to people in all walks of life. (Prior to this time, he had been taking his own personal 3-D photos and felt nothing could compare with stereo images.) This was in April, 1938.
Soon afterward, (probably July) he had to travel to Medford, Oregon, to work on a few pianos in the area. He did this on a routine basis, several times a year. Because Norma had vacation time coming, she traveled with him on this occasion. While they were there, they visited Oregon Caves.
Ice by William Gruber
Norma Makes A Wish
The newlyweds took the cave tour with William toting along his stereo rig -- two Kodak Bantam Specials mounted together onto a tripod.
In the very last room the forest ranger said "This is the end of the tour, folks. I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Oregon Caves National Monu-ment. Come again soon.
Oh, by the way" he added, gesturing toward a stalagmite formation that rose from the cave floor in the center of the room, "this is our Wishing Stone. If any of you would like to make a wish, just rub it and your wish will come true!" He grinned and, turning, led the way toward the exit.
Norma and William were last in line. Earlier, William had caused many heads to turn in curiosity as he walked through the dripping corridors with his folded tripod slung over his shoulder. Norma slowly shuffled along after the other visitors and watched to see if anyone would rub the Wishing Stone. A few people did, some touched it curiously; but most ignored it altogether. William glanced at it briefly then continued toward the exit. Norma however, was less skeptical.
didn't believe in such
things, of course, and
yet William's idea for
a new kind of stereo
photography was so
exciting and so orig-
inal! Plus they certain-
ly could use some
luck. She put out her
hand and caressed
the smooth, cool
surface of the stone.
William turned and looked back impatiently. His face, with its well-scrubbed look and habitual expression of elfin good humor came as near to expressing displeasure as it possibly could..." What do you think you're doing?" he asked Norma. (It embarrassed him, to think that she was that naive.) "Oh, I'm just wishing that something good would happen to your idea!" He turned and shook his head at such foolishness. Together, they walked out into the sunlight. Just then Norma seized William's arm. "Oh William, look at those deer grazing over there! Let's go over and watch them" she said.
1945 William Gruber's twin camera setup for close-up photography. This system was used to photograph the images for Sawyers' "Wild Flower" and "Mushroom" books
William Gruber Meets Harold Graves
Harold Graves raised his camera to his eye and looked through the viewfinder at the grazing deer. He was about to click the shutter when, suddenly, a human figure moved into the viewfinder scene between him and the deer. It was a young man, blond haired and short of stature, with an improbable object slung across his shoulder: a tripod supporting two identical cameras side by side.
Harold's curiosity overcame his annoyance. He lowered his camera on its shoulder strap and stepped up to the young man. "Good afternoon. I'm curious. May I ask what kind of a camera setup you've got there?" The young man turned. His face brightened as he looked up at Harold, who towered over him by nearly a full head. He lowered the tripod to show Harold his twin cameras.
"It's a device for taking stereo pictures," William said with an unmistak-able German accent. "These are two Kodak Bantam Special Cameras. This cable connects them so that, when I trip the release, their shutters go off simultaneously. I can slide the cameras back and forth on this bar to vary the distance between them and get different stereo effects, or if I choose, I can disconnect the cable and use one camera alone."
"That's really interesting!" commented Harold. "It's especially interesting to me because I happen to be in the photography business myself." Then he held out his hand and introduced himself "I'm Harold Graves, Pres-ident of the Sawyer's Company in Portland." "Happy to meet you!" said the blond young man, shaking Harold's hand vigorously. "I'm William Gruber, and this" -- turning to the pretty brunette standing beside him "is my wife, Norma. Sawyer's...Sawyer's, I think I've heard of your company. You're in the picture postcard business, aren't you?" Harold nodded. "We've been one of the leading companies in the United States in that line. I'm on my way to California on business, but I always take my camera with me wherever I go. I always try to be alert for scenic shots that I can take to add to our library of pictures."
"Then you're just the man I've been wanting to see!" exclaimed William. "I've got an idea that I think would make some photographic company a lot of money. It would take advantage of the qualities of Eastman's new Kodachrome film to make color stereo photography available to the public at a real savings in cost."
"Well, Sawyer's is always on the lookout for new ideas," commented Harold. "Are you folks staying here at the Caves tonight, or moving on?" "We have a room here in the Chateau" said William enthusiastically. "So do I" said Graves. "Tell you what, I want to mosey around while the light is still good and get some more pictures. I'll be leaving in the morning, but I don't have anything special to do tonight after dinner. Why don't you come to my room about 8 o'clock so we can talk? It's on the fifth floor, No. 52."
The Night it All Began
William and Norma ate in the rustic dining room (with a floor that partially exposed a bubbling mountain stream beneath) William was too excited to be aware of his meal or the picturesque surroundings. They finished their meal and he jumped up excitedly "Are you coming with me?" he asked Norma. But she said no that she would just go up to the lobby and take in the movie. She said: "you can tell me all about it later".
Harold welcomed William into room 52. "Now tell me about your idea", he said. "You mentioned Kodachrome film, where does that fit in?" "Well, as you know, one big advantage of Kodachrome is that it can be copied and enlarged without showing grainy texture. Basically, here's my idea: to take stereo pairs on Kodachrome film with a device like my twin Bantam Specials, and then copy them onto 16-millimeter movie color film to sell
commercially," said William as he smiled over to Harold.
"But that wouldn't be enlarging your picture" objected Graves "That would be making it smaller!" "Wait! I've only told you half the story!" insisted William. "I'm in the process of inventing a device like nothing that's ever been seen before. It will be a small, compact stereoscope that will hold seven pairs of these 16 millimeter stereo pictures and, as you look
at each pair in turn, a lens will magnify the images."
"You remember the old-time stereoscopes, and how popular they used to be?" he continued. "They gave you the illusion of reality, and yet you were only looking at a black & white picture stereo card, right? Now, imagine the thrill of looking not at, but through a translucent stereo picture in full Kodachrome color, with light coming through the film from behind to give you the illusion that you're standing in the middle of a real scene!."
Harold felt a mounting excitement as he listened to William's enthusiastic words. "You said seven pairs," He interposed. "That brings up some more questions. How does the stereoscope hold seven pairs at once, and why seven? Why not six or eight, or maybe just two?"
William's pink face broke into a delighted smile. "That's what's so different about my idea. And, you can believe this or not, I got the basic idea one day while I was lying flat on my back in the hospital!"
"The circle is the most economical shape in nature." He cupped the middle fingers and thumbs of his two hands together to illustrate. "Imagine a flat circular disc with color transparencies mounted all around the margin in such a way that two matching stereo pairs are always oppo-site one another. Now, if you put this disc into a stereoscope that's made to receive it, and if the stereoscope has a lever for rotating the stereo pairs into your vision one pair at a time, you can view several scenes from a card that's only half the size of the old, one-scene stereo cards."
"Hmmm," mused Harold, stroking his chin. "That sounds original, all right. But I still want to know why you stick to the idea of seven pairs? That would be fourteen individual pictures.
Mathematically, it's hard to divide a pie into fourteen equal pieces. Ten or twelve would be a lot easier."
William took a letter from his coat pocket and, with a pencil, drew a circle on the backside of the envelope. "The idea of seven pairs isn't an arbi-trary one," he said. "I arrived at it after doing some experimenting.
First of all, let's suppose we're going to use six pairs, or twelve pictures in all, and space them equally around the circle. We'll start with a pair of 1's opposite each other, and rotate the circle a space at a time with a pair of 2's, a pair of 3's, and so forth, until we get to 6. Now we've filled the circle."
He handed the envelope to Harold. "Imagine that each pair of numbers is a pair of stereo pictures. Rotate the circle and look at each pair in turn until you've gone all the way around twice and see what happens."
Harold did so. "Whoa!" he said suddenly. "The second time around, they're all upside down!" "Precisely," agreed William. "And that would be a little inconvenient, wouldn't it? So let's see if we can try something else. Let's use six pairs again, but this time we'll skip every other space as we number them around the circle."
He erased the previous numbers and started with number 1 again. "Oh, oh. I got as far as 3 and haven't any place to put my No 4's! The 1's are already in those spaces upside down, while half of my spaces are still blank with no way to get to them. So that doesn't work either.
What do we try next?" "I don't know," admitted Harold.
"So far, we've used an even number of pairs. Now, let's try an odd number like five pairs. We'll cut the pie into 10 pieces." William drew a second circle on the envelope and divided it into 10 segments. Rotating it one space at a time, he filled in each pair of numbers 1 through 5. He handed it to Harold. "Now try it." He said. "It still doesn't work!" objected Harold. "The second time around they're all upside down." "Right. Now let's try one last thing. Let's use the odd number of five pairs again, but skip a space each time we number them."
He erased the numbers around the circle and renumbered them 1 through 5, jumping every other space as he did so. He passed the envelope to Harold. "It works! They're all right side up!" declared Harold. "That's right. So now we know that we have to have an odd number of pairs arranged around the circle by skipping a space."
Harold waved his hand in a surrendering gesture. "All right, you have it all figured out and know it has to be arranged but I still have a question -- why seven pairs?"
"The human eyes are approximately two and one-half inches apart. A circular card of the proper diameter, three and half inches or so, has room for exactly seven pairs of transparencies cut from 16mm film. Besides, although I'm not superstitious, I've always thought of seven as being the perfect number."
"You win!" smiled Harold. "This sounds like a remarkable idea, Mr. Gruber. "As I said earlier, Sawyer's is always open to new ideas. Right
now we're sort of strapped financially and wouldn't be in a position to offer you anything to help develop your invention, but it appeals to me and I'd like, with your permission, to tell my partners about it when I get back to Portland." "Please do!" said William.
After a lengthy conversation that lasted more than two hours they parted company. Both gentlemen had other commitments but they decided they would get together again when they were both in Portland. William would be gone for a time fulfilling appointments in Medford for piano tuning. Graves promised William that he would look him up upon his return to Portland. It wasn't until several hours later that William said to himself "I wonder if I told that fellow TOO much...my idea isn't patented yet!"
William felt he was very lucky that Graves was such an honest businessman and did not take unfair advantage of his idea. At the time, William began dreaming of his invention, Norma was earning $94 a month and William was making a living with his piano work. They always hoped that his invention would earn them enough money to take a two-week vacation every year! Little did they know how successful his invention would become and how many luxuries it would provide in years to come.
Harold Graves' partner was Mr. Edwin Mayer. Because Sawyer's was in financial difficulty during this time, Mr. Mayer's brother-in law, Ray Kelly loaned the company $50,000 to make the first attempt at pursuing William's idea. The company could not afford to buy William's idea because of a recent lawsuit.
Sawyers was the film processing company for Owl Drugs. There were large, billboard style signs on several of the Owl Drug buildings heralding this fact. One day, one of these signs fell down and hit a lady. She sued Sawyers and the court awarded her a $10,000 judgment.
Sawyers had no corporate insurance so both Harold Graves and Ed Mayer had to mortgage their homes to pay this amount. The company and, they themselves, were practically bankrupt. Because of this lawsuit, Sawyer's was unable to buy William's idea and offered him a commission instead; a percentage amount based upon the number of items sold.
Norma feels that William would have probably sold his idea for $5,000 or so had Sawyer's offered it to him. His invention would have then belonged to them and that would have been the end of William's involvement. However, because of his arrangement with the company, he remained an important part of their operation until his death in 1965.
In the last few months of 1938 and early 1939, William worked closely with the folks at Sawyers developing the final product. William's only knowledge of any kind of engineering was based on air—the principle applied to the player piano. He, together with Thomas Long-botham -- another piano repair friend -- made the first reel-making machine using air as the basic principle.
The actual viewing device was patented in 1940. It later became know as the Model "A" viewer. Earliest versions bear the words "Patent Applied For" and were sold at National Parks and gift stores throughout the Pacific Northwest.
What's In A Name?
No one knows exactly who thought up the
name "View-Master". It certainly was not
William Gruber!!! He hated the name and
thought it sounded like "Toastmaster" or
"Mixmaster". William wanted a more romantic,exotic name like "Terra-Viewer" or "Earth-Viewer" or "Rainbow-Viewer" there were a number of other names but View-Master is the name they decided to use. It's hard to imagine it being called anything else today since the name View-Master is recognized by over 65% of the world's population.
After the View-Master was introduced in at the 1939 New York World's Fair and the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition in California, it was patented and featured as a popular Christmas gift.
William traveled around the country with Ladd Goodman taking 3-D photos in order to build up a photographic library of stereo pairs. They went to the Grand Canyon and other National Parks in the Western United States taking pictures with regular transparency film that could later be reduced to 16mm.
William, along with Ladd and Harold Graves, took all of the early scenic photography. The public response to View-Master was so overwhelming that the demand for new titles was tremendous. It was during this period that William began taking photographs for two major projects: Sawyers Wildflower & Mushroom books. However, other events put these projects on hold.
Above: William Gruber (with Elsie May) intently
studies various camera designs
William always spent time keeping up with 3-D news from around the world.
William Gruber - Nazi Spy -
You Must be Joking!!!
It was the fall of 1941 and Sawyer's was having trouble getting quality lenses for their newly developed stereoscopes. What were they to do? William suggested he contact his brother in Germany where the finest optical quality lenses could be obtained. An agreement was struck and a check in the amount of $1,500 was mailed to Germany for the needed
A short time later, the United States declared war on Germany. It was impossible to get anything shipped after that so Sawyer's had to accept the loss of their $1,500. About a year later, William was called down to the U.S. National Bank. He asked "why" but no answers were given so he proceeded on to the bank.
When he arrived he was thrilled and amazed to find that he had received a check from Germany in the amount of $1,500!!! He cashed the check and immediately proceeded to the Sawyer's plant and, to the utter delight of all concerned, he handed them the money that all had thought lost. However, unbeknownst to William, the FBI was filming the bank trans-action. On a cold, windy evening in March, 1942, several Federal Agents approached the Gruber home. After they rang the doorbell and showed their badges to an astonished Norma they asked if William was at home.
Upon learning that he was away they proceeded to arrest Norma in lieu of William. After recovering from her initial shock, Norma asked why they wanted to arrest William and they told her "We know that your husband is a spy."
Norma protested their innocence and they allowed her to remain at home that evening but she had to appear in front of the District Attorney the next morning. She called Ed Mayer and he promised to accompany her. At the DA's office files of "evidence" were stacked in front of her as a result of their investigation. Although protesting his innocence the entire time, they said they would arrest William as soon as he returned.
He was subsequently arrested and, since he was to be brought to trial, he was forced to leave the West Coast until the trial convened. William got in touch with Dr. Smith (author of Mushrooms in their Natural Habitat) and
relocated to Idaho during this time, under the watchful eye of the F.B.I.
It was somewhat ironic that, during this same period, View-Master was busy producing military training reels for the U.S. war effort. It became necessary for William to return to Portland once during his "exile" and repair a machine that was needed to make these reels.
Although the investigators never told William what "evidence" they had against him, friends mounted a campaign to prove his innocence and provide character references.
The FBI wanted Rupert Leach to testify against William. Rupert would not do so without seeing the "irrefutable evidence" that they had on hand. They agreed and pulled out William's file. Lo and behold, the only evi- dence they had was the cashed refund check! Of course, Rupert immed-iately told William and his attorney about the "evidence" of the check. The attorney took the FBI agents out to the plant and showed them the plant's bookkeeping records showing the $1,500 transaction. (The initial check issued, the write off as lost money, and the subsequent reim-bursement with appropriate dates for each transaction.)
However, the FBI would NOT drop their case. William was forced to go to trial in July, 1943. Crowds flocked the Federal Courthouse in Portland to see the infamous "spy". Immediately after court was called to order, the F.B.I. attorney asked for a postponement.
The Judge called everyone into his chambers and reviewed the evidence himself. He ruled that there was absolutely no reason for this case to be on trial. There was absolutely NO evidence that William Gruber was a Nazi spy the charge was absolutely preposterous and the F.B.I. should find something better to do with their time than harass innocent citizens!!! He then dismissed the case.
Although cleared of all charges, the Gruber family still had to move because everyone remembered the headlines of "spy" and failed to read the acquittal buried in the back of the paper.
William The Photographer
William Gruber took thousands of stereo photos during his lifetime. He envisioned the View-Master as an educational device. He did much of the scenic photography for the first View-Master reels. Reels such as #22 Crater Lake, are part of his legacy as well as many other scenic titles.
His devotion to stereo photography led to the production of several books illustrated with View-Master reels including "Wildflowers of the Western United States", as well as "Mushrooms in their Natural Habitat", "The Stereo Atlas of Human Anatomy" and "The Chinese Art Set".
This photo, taken on one of William's
many trips to Germany, was used on the cover of the
"Germany" packet (B193) in the Nations of the World Series.
He spent many hours capturing thousands of different 3-D images. His photos were enjoyed not only by his family and many friends but by members of the scientific community as well.
He also photographed the Passion Play at Oberammergau. He attended the Vatican services celebrating the Canonization of Pope Pious X. William was the only commercial photographer allowed into the sanctuary and received a private audience with the Pope after the ceremonies.
William Gruber with the special
camera rig used to photograph the
Canonization of Pope Pius X.
William The Mycologist
Gruber's keen interest in Mycology began at an early age when he and his family would go "mushroom hunting" in the forest of Southern Germany. This tradition is a common practice throughout that country even today.
He continued his interest when he immigrated to the United States and even set up his own mushroom house in Portland shortly after his arrival. The raising and selling of the mushrooms provided William with an additional income along with the money he earned repairing pianos and organs.
The mushroom house was very dark and never had a very pleasant odor because the mushrooms needed a large supply of manure in order to grow properly. In spite of this fact, the young boys in the neighborhood were always breaking into his mushroom house and stealing his best selling fungi.
William put up with this situation for quite some time before he decided to "fix them for good". He took some manure and water and filled a big pail with it and put it up over the door so that anybody coming in would get the manure and water spilled on them. You can probably guess what happened next…a friend came to visit and William wanted to show off his pride and joy - the mushroom house. He opened the door and got his "booby trap" all over him and his friend. Of course, William was upset but took the whole thing in stride and told this amusing incident to his many friends over the ensuing years.
He prided himself on his knowledge of mushrooms and spent many hours foraging for the various forms best suited to accompany different dishes. His many friends were always astonished by the diversity of taste and flavor William brought forth when preparing these tempting taste treats.
One of his long-time acquaintances Frank Lockyear, told a story about his association with William and a subsequent experience they shared on Mt. Rainier. In his book "Trees For Tomorrow" Frank explains that every now and then, he would accompany Gruber when he went out to take pictures for his View-Master reels. He recounts the following tale:
"Once we went by boat as far up the Snake River as was possible in those days. That trip through Hell's Canyon was one of the high points of my outdoor life. There was another that could easily qualify as a low point. "We were going up on Mt. Rainier, one of the few Cascade peaks I hadn't climbed, so Bill could photograph wildflowers (anemones).
Not that we would be going to the top. Bill wanted to visit some of the lovely little alpine meadows that occur up on the slopes. That's where many of the wild-flowers grow in the moist, fertile soil. On the way, we stopped at a store and bought some groceries. When we reached our campsite, Bill went out mushroom hunting. He came back with a small pail or a hat full and said 'Frank, tomorrow morning I'm going to make you a delicious breakfast of
sausage and mushrooms.' I climbed into my sleeping bag thinking about that great breakfast my friend was going to prepare and I woke to the wonderful aroma of food cooking. Bill Gruber was making good on his promise. He said that the variety of mushrooms we were eating was the best kind of vegetative steak available. Beef was one thing; these mushrooms were something else.
They sure were. About mid-afternoon I began to feel queasy. That evening, Bill opened a large can of beef stew. I ate and immediately headed for the
bushes to vomit. It went on and on until I was throwing up blood. So was Bill.
'Frank, we're getting out of here right now!' Bill said. On the way home, we stopped at a hospital where somebody gave me some pills. The next thing I remember was being stopped by the state police. Then I passed out and didn't come to until several days later, in my own bed at home. Bill was as sick as I was. I never did learn what kind of mushroom he had fed us." They remained friends until the time of William's death. William was one of Frank's inspirations that led to the start of his organization ReTree International.
William The Inventor
Aside from the wonderful View-Master product there have been a number of other items invented by William Gruber during his lifetime. He devised an ingenious method of removing limbs from trees so as to not to ruin their esthetic beauty but to be an effective way of pruning them while they were still in their regular growth pattern.
Together with Gordon Smith, he invented a mole-catching apparatus, which they called the "mole-ester". They decided it was too gruesome a product to manufacture and they sold the patent rights.
Connected to his fine musical abilities and his interest in stereo, William conceived the idea of how to produce stereo sound long before anyone else had this idea. He spent hours detailing his ideas to a relative of the great Victor Herbert. William explained every facet of his idea and how stereo sound could be achieved with his design.
After this conversation, William didn't think much more about it. He was always discussing his ideas with friends and visitors. Ironically, almost exactly one year later, stereo sound was developed in Hollywood using exactly the method William formulated. No credit was given to him for his input. He, once again, thanked his lucky stars that Harold Graves and his associates were so honest when William explained his design for the View-Master.
William The Family Man
Norma and William were married for 27 years and lived in 16 different houses. They even lived in Europe for a short time during the mid-1950's. They had three children; two girls and one boy.
In the early pre-Sawyers years, William toured with the great pianist Walter Gieseking and worked with many other concert pianists. He was a great performer himself and spent many hours at the keyboard.
One of his greatest loves was being outdoors. He would go out hiking and climbing the mountains of the Pacific Northwest as often as possible. He was a true conservationist before most other people had even heard of the word. He spent much of his youth in Germany enjoying the outdoors and passed his love for nature onto his children. The mushroom set grew as a result of William's childhood interest in the subject.
William Gruber up a tree
Hand-made 16mm View-Master format stereo camera made by Karl Kurz
1956 William Gruber at Saddle Mountain Nov 24 with
his camera and case
William Gruber sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon
Anna Biller and Georg Gruber
1944 Norma Lenz Gruber on View-Master reel from Karl Kurz
Lovely Gruber children in a little red wagon by William Gruber
William Gruber at top of peak
1956 William Gruber and Harold Graves on Saddle Mountain Summit
4 miles Nov 24 1956
1956 William Gruber and friend on Saddle Mountain Nov 24
on large tree stump
MU-1 Mushrooms in their Natural Habitats - no 2 Aleuria Aurantia
Mushroom Set sample pix 5
Because he spent so much time outdoors, William grew into the habit of wearing glasses with a yellow tint to them, similar to those many athletes wear today. Once, when returning home from a trip to the mountains, he passed the Lincoln Automobile dealership and fell in love with the show-room car. He test drove it, completed the necessary paperwork and drove the car off the lot and home to his loving wife and family. Upon pulling up in the driveway he honked the horn and had the family come out onto the front yard. "Look at my beautiful new car," he exclaimed. "Isn't it the most beautiful yellow Lincoln you've every seen" he asked. The family starred at him in astonishment...then laughed out loud and suggested he might like to remove his yellow glasses--the car was actually a bright pink!!! He decided to keep the car, and avoid any additional embarrass -ment. His son, Karl, still laughs today when he tells this story.
Traveling with his family was another of William's great passions. They visited Europe many times both before and after they lived there. They also traveled to the Orient and all over North America.
Another of William's great loves was oriental art. One of the first pieces he acquired was a sitting Buddha that he bought during one of his early visits to Germany. Remnants of burnt offerings show at the foot of the statue
reminding us of the time when this statue sat in repose at one of the many Buddhist shrines. His interest and dedication to this art form is what led to the production of the Chinese Art set. It is sad to note that he did not live to see the finish of this monumental work.
Upon his death, William was cremated and his ashes were placed at a spot beloved by him for many years -- McNeil Point on Mt. Hood. Bronze castings of his hiking boots were made and placed there as a permanent marker commemorating the man who loved the mountains and all of nature's wonders. Today this is a popular nature walk area.
1978 Susan Pinsky in Beaverton OR at Gruber Memorial
by Marilyn Felling
Because of his love of nature, it was only fitting that the "Gruber Memorial Park" was created at the View-Master plant in 1967.
The park was established as an employee picnic and recreation area in the midst of the various buildings housing the Portland facility.
This is how William Gruber was known to his family, friends and co-workers . . a kind, generous man whose love of the earth knew no bounds. We enjoy the benefits of his wonderful invention, as do millions of others. May he always be remembered as a truly great man.
Mrs. Ardie Hitchcock, wife of William's longtime friend and View-Master employee David Hitchock, wrote a poem at the time of William's death that described his uniqueness: it is reprinted here as it was written.
"Without William, the mountains must surely be lonesome. His devotion to the high places, and to all the lovely forms life takes, was a way of living.
Here is an image of him, standing on a high ridge above the Columbia Gorge, framed by the tumble of buttes and foothills leading South toward Mt Hood, telling of the days when the Indian tribes of the Columbia Basin used this trail, this pass, in their crossings to hunt in the high country. Again we see him, on the rugged flank of Mt. Hood, about McNeil Point Shelter, a rough stone hut on the western ramparts of the mountain, his face turned toward the sun, his sturdy body a study in repose and peaceful communion with his surroundings.
Now, on the downward trail, his elf-like sense of fun and joy in living appears as he persuades the several children with him to pry an enormous boulder off into the canyon. They push and pry and struggle, but the boulder, high over their
heads, stays stubbornly in place as, laughing, they trot on down the trail.
Here he is, stopping to bend over a specimen of fungus, torn from an alpine fir by his young companion. He is seriously giving the Latin botanical name to his intent listener.
Once again, we find him, seated at his magnificent Steinway. along with the music of Bach his fingers knew so well, or surrounded by a recorded symphony as he examines with tenderness the myriad patterns and colors of his delicate Chinese porcelains, in the glow of an open fire.
But especially he belongs to the wide sky and the fresh, sweet air of the mountains, striding with enthusiasm through the alpine forests and meadows he so loved. As long as the beauty of earth persists, William's spirit will still live."
Mrs. Ardie Hitchcock
This beautiful tribute tells William's life story as nothing else could do. He will long be remembered for his many fine contributions to the world and, especially, our beloved View-Master product.
Chinese Art carved jade bowl
Bronze castings of William Gruber's hiking boots were made
and placed at McNeil Point on Mt Hood
Norma Lenz Gruber
William B. Gruber Memorial Park
View-Master GAF factory, Beaverton, OR
1958 Norma, William, Dee Dee, Karl and Linde Gruber family portrait
1956 William Gruber with Harold Graves on Saddle Mountain Nov 24
1956 William Gruber and Harold Graves playing around
on Saddle Mountain Nov 24
1944 Norma Lenz Gruber 2 on View-Master reel from Karl Kurz in 1978
1978 Karl Kurz with Norma Schofield Gruber about to lunch at Multnomah Club Portland OR by Susan Pinsky
1989 National Stereoscopic Assn banquet Norma Gruber, Cynthia Morton and Jean Poulot by Susan Pinsky
William Gruber at the edge of a precipice
Hand-made 16mm View-Master film cutter made by Karl Kurz
Alpine Wildflowers and Succulants book and viewer
"Take a NEW LOOK" Model C View-Master viewer camera store display
DR-4 Starred in View-Master stereo - View-Master Personal slide punch
Musical View-Master back of viewer designed to play music when knob is held down by David Starkman
Musical View-Master front of viewer designed to play music box music when knob is held down by David Starkman
View-Master factory making StereoMatic 500 projectors
View-Master factory showing reel making machines
Sawyer's Inc. 1961 Annual Report for Stockholders
DR-40 image of product line
1989 View-Master Factory reel making machine with David Starkman and two workers Portland Aug by David Burder
1989 View-Master Factory reel insertion machine Portland Aug
by David Burder
View-Master employee Stereo Shutterbugs club meeting
William Gruber up in the mountains looking very serious
William Gruber hiking high in the snow covered mountains
1942 December View-Master Small Brochure - front and back
View-Master South America Very Early SLOF with Model A Viewer 2
1909 William B Gruber first communion 6 yrs old
1951 Stanford, CA William B. Gruber working with Dr David L. Bassett on 3-D anatomy images books
1955 William Gruber on the USS Hornet aircraft carrier
with his View-Master camera set-up
1960 Sawyer's Xmas party Karl Kurz, anon, Wm Gruber, Lad Goodman, Tom Meyer in View-Master tie, Harold Graves and Rupert Leach
1953 News-Review, Roseburg, OR 3 Dec Beaver Awards to William Gruber and Ken McLeod, inventor of 3-D Roto-Vuer sequential 60 3-D slide viewer
1954 William and Norma Gruber leaving Munich 21 June boarding plane
Dr David L. Bassett and William Gruber working on Stereoscopic Atlas of Human Anatomy
1938 Wedding of William Gruber to
Norma Lenz 23 April by Judge Kanzler
1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition View-Master reel
1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition View-Master reel
1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition View-Master reel
1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition View-Master reel
1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition View-Master reel
1956 William Gruber on Saddle Mountain Nov 24 on large tree stump
1936 William onboard a vessel in Portland Oregon
1954 William Gruber playing on a 9 ft Hamburg Steinway
Concert Grand Model D
To learn more about the man, William B. Gruber, an intimate perspective,
written by his daughter, Gretchen Jane Gruber, we recommend this book:
William B. Gruber
a man who left his mark in many wonderful ways
1903 - 1965
Model B Production Final assembly