Monday, January 13, 2014

Moving in Stereo(scope)  (11/6/13)

3-D TV doesn’t appear to be as popular as investors thought it would be , although movie theaters continue to sell out for this format. It seems like such an advanced science, unless you grew up on Viewmaster collections of famous places and Disney animations. That these visual devices were around as long as 75 years in one thing, to realize that 3-D imagery has its roots as far back as the late 1800’s is astounding.

A few items from my collection
Early advances in this surprisingly simple technology came mostly out of the little town of Meadville, PA, now mostly known as the home of Allegheny College. Here, at the Keystone View Company, 3-D images and devices designed to view them put pre-television consumers in the middle of the Grand Canyon, most any major city in the world, on World War I battlefields, and coutless other places. The cards were produced by the hundreds of thousands and distributed worldwide throughout the first half of the 20th Century.

1939 military training reel
Besides being popular family entertainment, they were used for a wide variety of other activities. Various specialized sets helped bring stories to life and better illustrate scientific concepts in classrooms. They were used as military training devices to identify both friend and enemy craft (as were the earliest Viewmaster reels in the late 1930’s). They were—and still are—aids for vision testing, used by corporations and in over 40 states for drivers’ license testing.

The Keystone Company shut its doors in 1972, as wider commercial interest in the devices and cards waned. This pioneering, low-tech item is all but gone and forgotten, except to collectors like myself.

The re-purposed church
Thanks to a family of former Keystone employees, the public can still appreciate the simple elegance of this viewing system firsthand, at the Johnson and Shaw Stereoscope Museum. Housed in a small Christian Science Church once attended by the Keystone founder, the one-room museum opened in 2002 and is operated by a third generation of former company employees. The collection is well organized and more informative than most. Displays are attended to by mannequins, giving context to the work that was done in manufacturing the product, as well as its applications.

One of several displays
The gentlemen who lovingly tend to the place share their knowledge with photography students who make regular visits from both Allegheny and Edinboro University. They also open the doors by appointment to those interested. If you ever find yourself anywhere near Pittsburgh or Erie, it is worth a call to make an appointment. Your visit will be a unique experience, and your host’s stories will help you experience a fascinating period of American technological development.

To request information call 814-333-4326 or send email to
Next Week: Austin’s Institutions of Congress

No comments:

Post a Comment