The View-Master is made of plastic and has two eyepieces through which full colour slides contained on a circular disc can be viewed in 3D. The discs, known as reels, are slotted into the viewer and each one has seven pairs of slides. The pair of images have photographs taken in such a way that when viewed together they produce a single stereographic image. The disc is revolved to move from one pair of images to the next by means of a simple lever.
The first View-Masters were marketed in 1939, when good quality colour positive film became available. The original intention was to produce an educational tool for adults, but the potential for entertaining children was soon recognised. Moreover the U.S. Military were supplied with slides to assist with artillery spotting and aircraft recognition in World War II.
The original viewers were made by the Sawyer Photographic Company, but sales really exploded when in 1951 the company took over a rival firm, Tru-View, and thereby acquired the rights to show Disney characters. In 1966 the company was sold to GAF and it is under this manufacturer that the model featured here was made. The writing on the front of the viewer states that it was made in the USA by GAF Corporation, Portland, Oregon. This helps to confirm that this was View-Master Model G. The information on patents on the viewer includes Belgium. This is because a European model J (later 10) was exclusively made in Belgium between 1975 and 1994 and concurrently with the American made model G. This helps date the manufacture of the Model G featured here to about the 1970s.
The model G was first produced in the 1960s and was the first model to be made in plastic rather than Bakelite. It was sold in an illustrated cardboard box, with full instructions and a few reels, each fitted into a paper sleeve. The reel shown here was of dogs and cats and typically was one of a set of three. From the huge range of reels released, here are a very few examples : Cheddar Gorge and Caves, the South Pole by air, The Easter Story, Man on the Moon, The Seven Wonders of the World, Robinson Crusoe, butterflies, the Canonization of Blessed Pius X, Snow White, Heidi, Frankenstein and Knight Rider. As the demand for educational use dropped, most reels were aimed at children. The red version of the European model J, in particular, became a very popular toy. The View-Master was added to the American National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Other View-Master products have been developed over the years. There was a talking model with batteries to produce sound and also a projector, but the latter required viewers to use special glasses, much as modern cinema audiences need to view 3D films. Mattel now offer a high-tech View-Master with virtual reality.