Did the U.S. Military Buy A Hundred Thousand Viewmasters During World War II?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about toys and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all toy urban legends featured so far!

TOY URBAN LEGEND: The United States military purchased millions of View Master reels for training purposes during World War II.

Sawyers’ Photo Services was founded in 1911. In 1926, Harold Graves was brought into the company and was put in charge of photographs for postcards and collectible albums.

In the early 20th Century, postcards of famous places were often the only way people could ever see some of the world’s wonders like the Grand Canyon. In 1939, Graves formed a partnership with a man named Wilhelm Gruber to produce “stereo photographs.” These stereo photographs would be on film that would be put into discs (or “slides”) that you could then slide into a viewing device similar to a camera and then, well, view them. This viewing device was called the Viewmaster.

Here’s an early 1940’s Viewmaster (made out of metal)…

Viewmasters were used as replacements for scenic postcards. They allowed viewers to see all sorts of wonderful landscapes (the Grand Canyon was one of their most popular series of slides).

When World War II broke out, the United States military soon appreciated the utility of these devices for training purposes.

From 1942 to 1945, they purchased 100,000 viewers and millions of slides.

Here are some of the military slides…

After the war, Sawyers purchased Tru-Vue, a Viewmaster knock-off company that had a license with Walt Disney. This led to Viewmaster’s first children-centric line of slides.

In 1966, Sawyers was purchased by General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation. This change in the company, combined with the 1962 move from metal Viewmasters to the now-famous red plastic models (seen here)…

led to the Viewmaster now being mainly a children’s toy. They picked up a bunch more licenses for new discs (including Star Trek). In 2010, the change became official. Viewmaster (now owned by Fisher Price) divested all of its remaining scenic photograph products and is now solely a company devoted to viewing discs for kids (everything is much fancier now, of course, with sounds and the lot).

The legend is…


Thanks to Pinot and Dita for the photograph of the 1940-era Viewmaster.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Response to “Did the U.S. Military Buy A Hundred Thousand Viewmasters During World War II?”

  1. But what was printed on the army training slides? Illustrated guides about procedures like assembling a rifle or jungle survival?

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