View-Master Now A VR Headset: A Look At The Evolution Of The Iconic Toy


Google and Mattel are partnering to bring back the iconic and legendary View-Master, completely revamping it as a virtual reality headset.

Turning the View-Master into VR headset would just be the latest chapter in the product's evolution.

The first View-Master was introduced in 1939, being conceived by William Gruber and Harold Graves. Graves was, at the time, the president of Sawyer Photographic Services, and Gruber had ideas for a stereo imaging device created from two Kodak Bantam Specials. Gruber then designed a machine that was able to mount small pieces of Kodachrome, Kodak's film at the time, into reels and could be viewed on his machine.

Sawyer and Gruber then held a meeting in 1938 and formed a partnership, after which a number of prototypes were built.

In late 1939, the View-Master was initially introduced as an alternative to scenic postcards, being sold at photography stores.

The first version of the View-Master was called the Model A, which opened up like a clamshell to insert the reel. The Model B was much the same, however the Model C of the View-Master, introduced in 1946, included a slot in which a reel could simply be inserted into the device.

A little before Model C, the U.S. military showed interest in the View-Master, suggesting the device could be used for personnel training.

The next big form factor design change came with the Model E, which introduced a more modern look, larger ivory buttons, and a larger slot for easier reel insertion. After the Model E, the Model F, introduced three years after the Model E in 1958, made use of C cell batteries in order to power an internal battery.

It was not until around 1966, when Sawyer's company was bought by General Aniline and Film (GAF) that the View-Master began to be less focused on showing scenic views and more about showing child-friendly subjects, such as cartoons and toys.

In 1970 a new innovation was brought to the View-Master. This was the introduction of the audio technology, allowing for sounds to be played as users viewed scenes.

While GAF enjoyed brief success with its child-friendly version of the View-Master, the toy soon lost popularity. The View-Master company was then sold to Arnold Thaler for over $20 million, which then renamed the company as View-Master International Group (VMI). VMI eventually was sold to Tyco Toys in 1989, which eventually merged with Mattel in 1997.

While production of the View-Master continued, its popularity never regained the stature it once boasted.

But that will very likely change going forward given Google and Mattel's partnership.

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