Some 3D Viewmaster nostalgia from 1960s America

Does anybody remember the Viewmaster, that higher-tech version of the Victorian-age stereoscope? It was invented in the late 1930s by Wilhelm Gruber and Harold Graves to use 16mm Kodakchrome film and flourished for decades, initially allowing vicarious travel, later carrying a wider range of story reels for kids.

I remember them well. We had one, and a lot of reels. Here’s a picture of some of them.

I had a 'Tom Corbett' adventure, too - don't know where that got to.
This is the Sawyer Model G Viewmaster I used as a kid with some of the reels.

I have to explain the selection. The 1960s set the space age exploding across the world. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut – well, I had ambitions of being an astronomer, actually. Space was cool. Space was neat. It was the future. I was five. And although we lived in import-restricted 1960s New Zealand, my mother had a penfriend in Minneapolis who was able to source and send some of the Viewmaster titles that just couldn’t be got in New Zealand. Hence the reels on Minnesota. I also had a Tom Corbett adventure, which wasn’t in the box I found – though you can check it out online these days (naturally).

Today they’re period pieces, the photos reminders of a bygone age. One that we imagine was simpler, but of course it wasn’t to those who had to live through it, Yet the slides – real Kodachrome film – have stood up well, they’re still rich and bright, still filled with that same exaggerated 3D I remember as a kid. Supremely cool. I’ll blog another time about why stereoscopic 3D looks phony – there are good scientific reasons.

Did you ever have a Viewmaster – and what do you remember watching on them?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

19 thoughts on “Some 3D Viewmaster nostalgia from 1960s America

  1. I LOVED my Viewmaster. I mostly used it to look at wild animal pictures. That, National Geographic, and Wild Kingdom were the only places us rural kids could see a tiger when I was growing up.


  2. My husband has a bunch of these….somewhere…. Now I am nagging him to look for them. But I do remember these in my own elementary school. We loved them. My husband remembers travel scenes and Mickey Mouse stuff. I remember the travel Viewmaster reels. Just a little bit of nostalgia. Yes?


    1. They seemed to cover all sorts of topics. I don’t know what became of all the ones I remember as a kid. The set above plus a few more seem to be all that have survived in the family collection. They were pretty neat.


  3. My dad has one. I always looked at the slides as a kid. My favourite two was a Buck Rogers and a Batman. There are others as well, but I can’t recall what they’re about.

    Thanks for awakening the memory. Now I’ll have to make him look for it the next time I visit.


    1. Hope you find them – I clicked through a few of the ones in the photo above for the first time in probably 35 years and was taken right back to the last time I saw them. Wonderful experience in all respects.


  4. I remember the National Geographic and the moon landing discs. These and Petersen’s Nature Books kept me busy on the long car rides to the MN Boundary Waters as a kid.


    1. My favourites were always the space ones. The 3d somehow made the space age more futuristic. We had the National Geographics with their wonderful Ektachrome space features, but there was always something magic about the Viewmaster pix.


  5. I LOVED my Viewmaster! I remember having Viewmaster photos of Disneyland, which I looked at over and over, because my parents would not let me go live there. Go figure. 😉

    I don’t know what ever happened to it. It went missing when our family moved.


    1. Awww, spoilsports! 🙂 I have a vague recollection of a Disneyland reel in our family collection. It was all pretty wonderful. The 3d effects made it quite magical.


  6. Very cool! One of my collecting interests is in the history of stereo-photography and the centerpiece of that collection is an original WW2 US Navy viewmaster.

    The view-master was first presented to the public at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and was quickly adapted for military training when war broke out. The one in my collection was used to train navy personnel in aircraft recognition and range finding. I have the original box and more importantly a near complete set of training reels. There are ‘study reels’ for each aircraft, featuring views of models of the aircraft from different angles and distances. Then there are ‘test reels’ which include a mixture of different aircraft.

    They may have originally had a serious purpose when they were used to train anti-aircraft gunners, spotters and pilots but 70 years later they are still useful – albiet as a fun and geeky way to test WW2 aircraft knowledge!


Comments are closed.