Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stereo Realist Camera

In 1943, Seton Rochwite, a young engineer, went to the David White Company in Milwaukee for a job interview. Seton brought with him a stereo viewer that he had built, and color stereo slides that he took with his prototype stereo camera, just to show some of the things he was capable of. The general manager of the company, Theodore Salzer, found the stereo slides interesting but he was not sure if the company (a manufacturer of precision surveying instruments) would be interested in making something like that. Seton did not have this in mind when he showed the slides, but he got inspired with the idea and prepared a report on the possibilities of the stereo camera.

It took David White 9 months to decide, and, despite a rather negative market survey and no experience in the manufacture of photographic equipment, the company decided to go ahead with the production of a complete stereo system: camera, viewer and mounting hardware and services. That's how the Stereo Realist was born. Seton Rochwite was hired in the fall of 1943 and started working on the design of the system. He designed the camera, viewer (red button) and even the Realist logo. By 1947 the Realist was ready and Seton, feeling that his job was done (and being tired of the weather in Milwaukee) quit his job and moved ahead to face new challenges.

Photo by Tim Stone

The Stereo Realist was introduced in May of 1947 and it was an instant success! Part of this success was due to the fact that the bugs were worked out during the several years of research and development. The other part was the realism and impact of the 35mm color slides viewed in a good stereo viewer. (It is this same impact that draws people to stereo today and keeps them asking why this wonderful visual experience has been kept a secret!) H. C. McKay reflects this enthusiasm in the second edition of his book written in 1953. There is a definite change in spirit between the two editions (1949 & 1953) and it is worth reading both.

The price of the Stereo Realist was $160 and $20 for the viewer. Corrected for inflation today this amount is well over $1000, which sounds expensive by today's standards. However, it was in line with other fine cameras of the time, but still out of reach for the average hard-working American.

For the first years, the Stereo Realist was "the only game in town" and had a hard time keeping up with the demand. Sales from the Stereo Realist jumped from just 9% of the total company sales in 1947, to 67% in 1952! Other companies rushed to take advantage of this explosion, resulting in a dozen or so new stereo cameras. The introduction of the Kodak Stereo in 1955, for half the price of the Realist, marked "the beginning of the end" for the Realist.

By the end of the '50s, stereo was going down and stereo operations were closing one after the other. Despite declining sales, the Stereo Realist continued with old and new products through the '60s. Finally, in 1972 the David White Company (which, for a short period of time had changed its name to Realist Inc.) closed its stereo camera division. Luckily, Ron Zakowski bought the remaining parts and equipment. The David White company is still in business doing what it did before the Realist came along and Ron Zakowski retired in June of 1997, after 46 years of service.

For more information about Stereo Realist camera, just take a look head over to DrT’s Stereo Realist page.

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