PORTLAND — A nifty little hand-held gadget that got its start here many decades ago is best known for taking millions of people on vivid journeys throughout the world.
Lesser known, but still a significant part of the history of the View-Master, is how it also illuminated the truths of the Bible in what was then a whole new way.
Bringing that part of the View-Master story to public attention today is Frank DeFreitas of Wonders of the Bible, a Pennsylvania-based ministry that documents how God’s Word is disseminated through art, science and communication technologies: past, present and future.
“View-Master was the fun 3D viewer that brought all your favorite Biblical stories into your homes, schools and churches. And in 2019, it is celebrating its 80th birthday,” said DeFreitas.
Known to an estimated 65 percent of the world’s population, View-Master is the trademark name of a line of special-format stereoscopes and corresponding View-Master “reels” that are thin cardboard disks containing seven stereoscopic 3-D pairs of small transparent color photos on film.
Introduced at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, View-Master was made and sold by Sawyer’s, Inc. of Portland. Manufacturing was initially near downtown, but in 1951 the company expanded with a factory in the Progress area, near what is now Tigard’s Washington Square Mall.
Tourist attractions and travel views were dominant in View-Master’s initial lists of available reels, most of which were meant to interest all ages. Eventually the reels expanded to include cartoon characters, TV shows and more — including Bible-based material.
“Christian 3D View-Master content was plentiful in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, and it was always prominently promoted right alongside all of their popular world travel reels,” said DeFreitas. “You could walk into many department stores and purchase your favorite Bible story in 3D for View-Master.
“Many times a Bible story would be represented by live actors, set in authentic geographical locations. Other times, a Bible story would be made up entirely of sculpted dioramas, and shot in View-Master’s studios. Many times photographed initially onto 4 by 5 Kodachrome film transparencies.”
DeFreitas noted that each film reel would have associated text placed in the View-Master text window, so people could read about what they were looking at. Due to this, scripts had to be written — many times in several languages. Each 3D picture had its associated text in a free booklet enclosed in each set of View-Master reels.
Here’s an example of the writing one would find in a View-Master packet: Long before the time of Christ, a young widow named Ruth, followed her also-widowed mother-in-law from the land of Moab to Bethlehem. Speaking those often quoted words of faithful love “Whither thou goest, I will go…”. There, in Bethlehem, Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz, who later married her. Their grandson had eight sons, the youngest of which was David. This was the David who left his sheep to slay Goliath. And to become the first king of all Israel.”
DeFreitas acknowledges that the Christian-themed reels were not as popular a sales item as most View-Master material. But he says the Christian content is still a natural fit for his Wonders of the Bible collection.
‘You see, View-Master is a very famous and popular collectible,” he said. “Yet, not many people were interested in collecting the Biblical titles — and least in comparison to those interested in the associated world travel, television shows, entertainment, cartoons. Very similar to the world today!”
Over the past eight decades, the View-Master company changed hands several times. Today View-Master continues to move into the future; there are View-Master virtual reality head sets.
For more about the Christian themes in View-Master, and DeFreitas’s larger collections of other Gospel-oriented material, go to wondersofthebible.org