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View-Master History: From Sawyers, Mattel To The Age Of Virtual Reality

The View-Master, the classic children's toy from the 1930s, has undergone a series of upgrades through the years, but nothing gives this fire-engine red 3D picture viewer a 21st century boost more than a collaboration with Google Cardboard does.

Mattel's View-Master has come a long way from William Gruber's stereoscope updated with the new Kodachrome color film. A chance encounter with Harold Graves of Sawyers Photography led to the View-Master being introduced to the world at the New York City World's Fair in 1939.

The View-Master was not initially intended for children's entertainment. Instead, its owners envisioned it as an educational tool for adults. The U.S. military even commissioned specially produced reels to help with spotting enemy aircraft in World War II.

However, the early 1950s brought in the rise of rivals that Sawyers decided to purchase. More importantly, Sawyers acquired the rights to create Disney-themed reels, so the View-Master as a children's toy was born. A series of acquisitions later, Mattel acquired View-Master and has been distributing the toy under its Fisher-Price brand since 1997.

Now, amid slumping sales for Mattel, the toymaker has introduced the next-generation View-Master infused with virtual reality, one of the hottest, if still experimental, new technologies being developed by plenty of major Internet and electronics companies, including Facebook and Samsung.

"By working with Google's Cardboard platform, we are now able to take that experience even further, bringing the discovery and immersive viewing experience of the View-Master to the digital age," said Doug Wadleigh, senior vice president and global brand general manager of Toy Box at Mattel. "Combining technology and innovation with this classic toy gives kids an enhanced experience, allowing for play opportunities not yet imagined through new, digitally curated content."

The new View-Master will become available in the fall, just in time for the holidays, for $30, and will come with a sample reel that allows children -- and adults -- to take a virtual tour to places such as the solar system, where text boxes pop up from out of thin air to provide information and trivia about the planets and other celestial bodies.

A quick flick of the lever on the side takes the viewer to other places, such as the Alcatraz Island on San Francisco Bay, a CGI-enhanced jungle populated by dinosaurs, or the Golden Gate Bridge. Mattel will also sell additional reel packs for $15 per pack, each containing four reels with different themes, such as science, nature and adventure destinations.

For the View-Master to deliver virtual reality experiences, it will need to be paired with the View-Master app and a smartphone slid into the plastic binoculars. Mattel says it is working to make both iPhone and Android smartphones compatible with the toy.

Mike Jazayeri, product director for Google Cardboard, says the partnership does not include a licensing or revenue sharing agreement. Instead, Cardboard was developed as a cheap and easy way to bring virtual reality to the masses without requiring them to pay large sums for a top-of-the-line device such as the Oculus Rift currently in development.

"We developed Google Cardboard as an open platform to inspire companies like Mattel to rethink how to deliver new user experiences through technology," said Jazayeri.

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