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That’s one way to look at it

By Jennifer Reed, executive director

When I was 8, my grandparents took our family on a vacation out west. For two weeks we visited every touristy place we could including Devil’s Tower, Crater Lake and of course Disneyland. At every stop, Grandma would scour the gift shop looking for View-Master discs of the sites.

My sister and I relived that trip many times over with that little red and white View-Master.

I had no idea then the item I held in my hand had a century and a half history behind it.

It was not until I began working at the Cass County Historical Society that I learned about the earlier versions of one of my favorite childhood toys. One day, I was processing a collection donated to us by the Buell family and I came across this item which clearly was something meant for looking at or viewing something at fairly close range. It had Perfecscope stamped on the bottom of it, so of course I Googled it to learn more. While Wikipedia had some basic information, there were actual web pages about the science behind the toy.

Basically, some guys in England came up with the invention in the 1830s first using drawings.

French guys improved upon it in the 1850s, but then in 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (yes, the poet and philosopher dad of the Supreme Court justice), got ahold of it. He created a more affordable and portable version for more people to enjoy. In a truly altruistic move, Holmes refused to patent it.

With the invention of photography and its rapid rise in popularity, it was not long before the cards used with stereoscopes (common name for the viewers) were all photograph based.

Stereoscopes allowed people to travel to places they had never been, see people up close they had never met and experience the world in a whole new way. They were not just popular parlor entertainment, but also were often found in schools as teaching tools.

In this modern era where everyone has a photography study via their cell phone, virtual reality, and metaverse, take a minute to remember the humble beginnings of the once-popular toy, the View-Master.

The Cass County Historical Society has several types of stereoscopes, but we are always looking for more viewing cards. If you have some old cards tucked away and don’t know what to do with them, feel free to reach out to us via email at cchsmo@gmail.com or by phone at 816-380-4396.

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