Oregon’s inventors of the View-Master to be celebrated

In one of the more engaging stories of the year, the iconic View-Master’s Oregon roots will now be documented on a new interpretive historical marker at the Oregon Caves Chateau. The dedication is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. at the Chateau, which is located 20 miles off of Hwy 199 in Cave Junction, at 2000 Caves Hwy.

Oregon Travel Experience (OTE) worked with the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization and the National Parks Service to bring this 20th century historic story to light, and to educate Oregonians on the role of the Oregon Caves as a meeting point for two Oregon inventors: William B. Gruber and Harold J. Graves.

“It’s wonderful that the community of Cave Junction and the Oregon Caves are sharing this story with a larger audience,” said OTE’s Oregon Historical Marker Program Administrator Annie von Domitz. “The story of the View-Master’s Oregon origins is a prime example of how our agency helps connect motorists with Oregon attractions that might otherwise be missed.”

“The work performed by OTE’s Historical Marker Program volunteers helps create important connections between travelers and Oregon history. Without historical markers many Oregon stores like the birthplace of the View-Master could remain hidden, even to native Oregonians,” said von Domitz.

“OTE is extremely thankful to the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization and the National Parks Service in bringing this story to a larger audience,” added von Domitz. “I encourage all those who loved the View-Master as children to participate in the many weekend activities at this free public event.”

The unveiling of the new marker will be presided over by Oregon Travel Information Council Chair Gwenn Baldwin.

Oregon’s 3D pioneers

An Oregon inventor, William B. Gruber visited the Oregon Caves in 1938. He brought his own unique version of a stereo camera to capture the cavern’s dramatic interior. Gruber’s invention used two Kodak Bantam Specials mounted together on a tripod. His device transcended the Victorian period’s stereoscope and involved machinery that mounted tiny pieces of 16mm Kodachrome color-transparency film onto thick paper reels.

Oregon’s postcard publishing czar, Harold J. Graves, happened to be visiting the caves at the same time as Gruber, and was curious about the inventor’s double camera. That evening over dinner at the Oregon Caves Chateau, the new friends discussed Gruber’s prototype for a 3D reel viewer. From their synchronistic encounter, plans for the View-Master were devised. The device was introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

The View-Master was intended as an alternative to scenic postcards and was sold in photography shops, stationary stores, and scenic attraction gift-shops. Produced by Oregon publishing house Sawyer’s Inc., the View-Master was purchased by Mattel Inc. after several decades of Sawyer production.

“Three days of 3D”

The Friends of the Oregon Caves and Chateau headed by Executive Director Sue Densmore, will sponsor three days of activities surrounding the marker dedication.

On Friday evening, May 15th, event speakers, presenters, and Chateau guests will mingle with members of Gruber and Graves’ descendants. A special presentation by Rich Dubnow entitled “The History of 3D and the View Master Development” is slated for 7:30 p.m. Dubnow was the lead photographer for View-Master and traveled worldwide taking images for the popular reels. He is currently owner of Image 3D, in Milwaukee Oregon.

On Saturday, May 16th following the new marker dedication at 1:00 p.m., 3D films, book signings, demonstrations and children’s activities centering on 3D technology will take place at the Chateau.

Sterographer Ron Kriesel of the National Stereographic Association and the Cascade Steroscopic Club will open the festivities with a free viewing of a 3D film. Dubnow will also speak on the history of 3D, and author Gretchen Gruber Harmon (descendent of William B. Gruber) will read from her book “View Master, the Biography of William B. Gruber.”

Authors Mary Ann Sell and her spouse, Wolfgang Sell, and co-author Charley Van Pelt, will present their book “View Master, Memories.” The Sells own one of the largest View Master collections in the country. Many of the models will be on display at the Chateau free of charge over the weekend.

Special tours of the Oregon Caves and the Chateau will be conducted throughout Saturday and Sunday, as will raffles to win a free night at the Chateau, books, and commemorative reels and viewers.

On Sunday, May 17th, Saturday’s post-dedication presentations will be repeated, starting at 11:00 a.m. and ending at 1:30 p.m.

A brief history of stereo imaging

Since the mid-1800s photography and its accompanying paraphernalia have been revered. From daguerreotypes to stereoscopic imaging and early silent films, the public was enchanted with photographic entertainment. In particular, three dimensional imaging was wildly popular with Victorian audiences and most middle class parlors contained a device known as a stereoscope–a simple handheld personal projector passed from hand-to-hand.

Duplicate photos were processed and then pasted onto cardboard “slides” side by side. The collectible slides were then inserted into a holder at the end of the viewer. As viewers peered through the optical lenses, the card would come to life in three dimensions. Subject matter ran the gamut from comic burlesque to world wonders and encyclopedic series. From this low-tech and humble product, the View-Master owes its origins.

The latest incarnation of the View-Master interfaces with Google Cardboard (an app for Android devices) and enables users to explore famous places, landmarks, and the natural world in 360-degree “photospheres.” Many of the developers who created the new app played with View-Master toys as children. Mattel has indicated that it will curate and create new experience reels to expand their current content.

Special commemorative “3Days of 3D” reels will be offered for sale at the Chateau over the event weekend.

About OTE

Oregon Travel Experience (OTE) is a semi-independent state agency located in Salem, Oregon with a focus on transportation information. The agency and its governing council’s mission is to ensure a safe and convenient motoring experience. OTE oversees highway safety rest area management, helps motorists find essential services through blue highway logo signs, and connects the first-time Oregon traveler to tourism partners through its travel information centers. OTE also administers two of the state’s official heritage programs: historical markers and heritage trees. Visit us on the web at

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