Tru-Vue was one of the first of the stereo picture companies to be set up to exploit the relatively new 35 mm. film. The company was founded in 1931 by the Rock Island Bridge and Iron Works in Illinois. They produced stereo pairs (usually 14 views) on 35 mm. film strips, sold as coiled lengths of film in small cardboard boxes. In 1933 Tru-Vue produced a special viewer and series of films showing the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. These proved popular, giving Tru-Vue a foothold in the market which they exploited, producing new filmstrips on a variety of subjects. By 1949, their production was in excess of a million filmstrips a year.
A Tru-Vue viewer and some boxed film strips
The viewer is very simple; the film strip is advanced using a lever on the bottom of the viewer which slides horizontally.
It is estimated that Tru-Vue produced about 400 different film strips, with subjects as diverse as "Day at the Circus," "London Zoo," "Goldilocks," "Dick Tracy," "Aztec Ruins," and "Statue of Liberty."
A Tru-Vue film strip. The rolled-up film is quite fiddly to unroll and load into the viewer.
The film strips were all printed onto a monochrome film with a brownish tone, whereas View-Master, which came out in 1938, used colour. In 1950, Tru-Vue produced a new "Stereochrome" with nine stereo pairs in full colour. The innovation came too late, and in 1951 (probably with an eye on Tru-Vue's Disney licence) Sawyers bought Tru-Vue.
Tru-Vue viewer for Tru-Vue cards
Production was moved to Oregon and the Tru-Vue format changed from the fairly awkward to handle film strip to cards containing 7 stereo pairs.
The card was inserted into a slot in the top of the viewer and advanced downwards using a lever at the side.
A Tru-Vue card. I'm not sure whether the colouring is deliberate or the result of fading.
Fairly quickly, Sawyers realised that this product was in direct competition with View-Master and the Tru-Vue card was discontinued.
A Lestrade viewer and card bought in the 1980s
Lestrade used a similar format to the Tru-Vue card for their 3D product. The company was based in France and many of the subjects are, not surprisingly, of French cities or events of particular interest to a French audience. Gift sets were produced, with the Lourdes set being the one most often seen now.
Two of the pictures from a Lestrade card entitled "Spectacles de Paris. Caberet Eve."
Not all of Lestrade's cards were for children. They also produced a few with more adult subjects, although they seem tame by today's standards.
The first Lestrade viewers were introduced in about 1954. The cards contain ten stereo pairs separated by a double set of perforations. The first viewers are bakelite; later viewers are plastic and there was a focusing viewer. Viewers were made in several colours, including cream, red and green.
The Stereoclic 'Super' focusing viewer for Stereoclic cards. This was also made under the Colorelief name.
Card-format 3-D pictures were made by several other companies.
Brugiere made (in France) and sold Stereoclic viewers and cards. The first Brugiere viewers took single cards but in an effort to compete with View-Master, the company introduced ten-scene cards and viewers to take the new cards.
Romo is another French company which made viewers and cards in the 1950s and 1960s. The Romo name is derived from the name of the company's founder, Robert Mouzillat. Romo cards come in two sizes, one with twelve stereo pairs and one with five.
A Stereobox viewer
The disc format of View-Master was copied by some companies, most notably Meopta (Czechoslovakia), Stereobox (East Germany) and Stereo-Rama (Italy). Meopta reels offer subjects not found in the View-Master range, in particular of Eastern Europe while Stereo-Rama's subjects include nudes and pinups.
The Stereobox viewers were made near Dresden in a wide range of colours during the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
Meopta viewers were made in Bratislava from the 1950s onwards. Several models were made, some of good quality, including a focusing viewer. The reels are, naturally, about Communist block countries and life in those countries in the 1950s and 1960s. This makes them uniquely interesting but unfortunately the film used (Gottwaldov) does not have the keeping properties of Kodachrome (used by Sawyers and GAF) so the pictures tend to be faded.
Stereo-Rama viewers were made in Milan by Technofilm. They made a couple of basic viewers and a good range of reels (using Kodachrome film) during the 1950s and 1960s.
These View-Master copies will accept View-Master discs but I prefer to stick to a View-Master viewer for my discs. Somehow, the copies never seem to have the quality of the original.
National Geographic 3-D viewer and cartridge
New formats are still being introduced. National Geographic have produced a range of cassettes on various subjects.
Interest in 3-D pictures is still alive and flourishing, even in the age of television, the Internet and 3-D graphics.