We reported in issue #3 of the ReView the existance of this after market accessory. Since that time, we have discovered new information about this product that differs slightly from our previous report.
The idea for the View-Lite Illuminator was first conceived on afternoon in the sporting goods department of a Gateway store in Wichita, Kansas. Apparently a Mr. Parks and a Mr. Reed, both store clerks in their late teens, thought it somewhat troublesome looking at View-Master reels. The choice was either to go to a window or point the viewer at an artificial light source. In each case, one was inconvenienced to some degree. We initially thought that this light attachment was first marketed after the introduction of Sawyer's own model C Light Attachment, but the facts state otherwise.
It was Parks and Reed that did most of the work, and a third party Mr. Binswanger acted as the main finacial backer. Binswanger was some type of manager at the Gateway store. With this and $25,000 in capital, the View-Lite Company, Inc. officially came to be on March 8, 1950. My assertion that the View-Lite preceded Sawyer's light attachment comes from the fact that View-Lite was in business in March of 1950 and the Model C Light Attachment does not appear on Sawyer's reel lists until September of 1950. Additionally, these guys would not be motivated to produce this product if Sawyer's already had their own light attachment on the market. No sane person would attempt to go head-to-head with a View-Master product, considering how popular their products were and the extent of their dealer network.
The unit was assembled by the three principles from parts designed by themselves and manufactured locally. The tooling cost for the mold was approximately $1600 in 1950. This would be equivalent to about $5000 today! The View-Lite Illuminator sold for just $1.00. That's a lot of light attachments just to brake even, considering it was not necessary for the enjoyment of View-Master reels (more of a luxury item). I was unable to determine an approximate number of units produced, but I know the company made money. Sales must have been good if Sawyer's decided to market their own version.
The View-Lite Illuminator was distributed by a photographic products representative that serviced this Gateway store. This rep had a nationwide territory, which would help get the View-Lite Company going and get a View-Lite Illuminator into the hands of everyone who wanted one.
The View-Lite Illuminator has a compact design and fits nicely onto the back of the Model C Viewer. It is powered by two "AA" cells and distributes the light via two mirrors two the diffusing windows of the viewer. The bulb is activated by depressing a small button located on the top of the unit. In my opinion, the View-Lite attachment is a more successful design than Sawyer's. You can cradle the mounted unit in your hand, and the total package weighs much less than Sawyer's version. This unit does have a drawback as the mirrors are usually found deteriorated from the adhesive used to mount them.
The View-Lite Company, Inc. was a short lived project. The corporation was dissolved on December 17, 1950. The company had six months of free reign over the marketplace before Sawyer's introduction of their own version. It was only four months after this introduction that the View-Lite Company closed its doors. The period of rising sales figures was essentially the same for both companies, but unfortunately the increased sales of Sawyer's product was at the expense of View-Lites' sales. In the end, the power of Sawyer's View-Master prevailed.
The principles of the company went their separate ways after that, pursuing military careers and professions in the oil industry. The VTCA had delusions of grandeur (well, I did anyway), thinking we could have more of these made today, but the mold was sold to some unknown person or company on the East Coast. With that information, the only source for these things remains the collector's marketplace.
(ed. note: A sample of what became of the View-Lite viewer was discovered shortly after this article was written. Apparently the mold was purchased by the Armme Company Ltd., of Chicago, IL, who modified the design of the light attachment and attached it to a Radex™ grab light stereo viewer. This combination produced a very inexpensive Realist format lighted stereo viewer. The company called the viewer the Armme "STERE-O-LITE" viewer and sold it for $2.95. It is not known how long the STERE-O-LITE viewers were produced.)