A mass consumer device marketed as a toy, the original View-Master came with thin cardboard disks, or reels, containing stereoscopic pairs of small Kodachrome photographs that when viewed through the apparatus created the illusion of three-dimensional scenes. Invented, manufactured, and sold by Sawyer’s Photo Services in the United States (a company specializing in scenic postcards, slides, and slide projectors), the contraption debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
In 1958 a young designer by the name of Charles “Chuck” Harrison redesigned the View-Master at the Chicago firm Robert Podall Associates. His Model F reduced the bulk of the batteries in earlier View-Masters. His Model G, produced from 1959 onward, abandoned the original Bakelite for injection-molded plastic, which allowed for a range of colors and designs that revolutionized the product’s market appeal. Reels depicting the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, the lights of the Las Vegas Strip, and even scenes from outer space further cemented the View-Master’s place in popular culture.
In 1961 Harrison joined the staff of the department-store chain Sears, Roebuck and Company, where he would remain for thirty-three years. He was the first black executive at the company’s headquarters and one of very few prominent professional designers of color at that time. Aside from the View-Master, Harrison’s products included lawn mowers and power tools, pots and stoves, and the very first plastic trash can.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)