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Stereo Realist 3-D Camera

Stereo Realist f3.5 camera made by
the David White Company of Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, c. 1951.

(Museum object #1980.337)

Since the dawn of photography in the early 19th century, millions of people have enjoyed the semi-permanent record of life that photographs provide. As technology developed, new and innovative forms of photography and styles of cameras became available to the public. Three-dimensional (3-D) or stereo photography created the illusion of depth by presenting slightly different images to each eye. 3-D photography enjoyed various periods of popularity, including resurgence in the mid-20th century when Milwaukee's David White Company introduced the Stereo Realist camera like that featured here.

Invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, stereo photography was exhibited at the 1851 World's Fair in London, where it caught the eye of Queen Victoria. Her enthusiasm for the new form of entertainment soon made stereo photography fashionable, and the technique enjoyed nearly half a century of popularity. With the introduction of moving pictures in the early 20th century, however, the public's interest in stereo photographic waned significantly.

At about the same time, Hungarian immigrant, David White, founded the David White Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An instrument maker, White started his company in 1895 with the assistance of relatives residing in the Milwaukee area and established a partnership with Charles Klaweither in 1900. The two men began manufacturing drawing and surveying equipment and incorporated their business in 1912. Despite its commitment to the manufacturing of surveying equipment, the David White Company is often most recognized for its brief production of the sensational Stereo Realist camera.

In 1943, a young engineer, Seton Rochwite, approached the David White Company with an idea for a new type of stereo camera. With the support of the company, Rochwite developed his revolutionary camera over the next four years. The camera was not commissioned by a major camera company and all of the significant components were designed by one man, making the camera unique.

Rochwite's invention is actually two cameras in one. When a photograph is taken, two separate images are recorded on the film, one from each ocular viewpoint. When the developed slides are viewed simultaneously through a lighted viewer, the two images blend together to reproduce the original subject in 3-D. Rochwite named his camera the "Stereo Realist" and it became available to the public during the summer of 1947. Other companies including Kodak, Revere, Graflex, and TDC did not introduce similar models until the mid-1950s.

Due to the high quality of craftsmanship, durability, the introduction of the high quality 35mm Kodachrome color slide film in 1936, and a lack of competition, the Stereo Realist experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity during the late 1940s and the 1950s. Celebrities such as James Cagney, John Wayne, Doris Day, Joan Crawford, and Bob Hope all demonstrated their support for the Stereo Realist by participating in ads during this period. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was frequently seen with a Stereo Realist hanging from his neck and many now famous portraits of film star Marilyn Monroe and pin-up sensation Bettie Page were taken with a Stereo Realist.

The camera's popularity was also reflected in the sales of the David White Company. At its introduction in 1947, sales comprised 9% of total sales. By 1952, sales had increased to an astonishing 67% of total sales. Two basic models and a barrage of accessories were also available including leather cases, flash, mounting equipment, electronic viewers, and wide-angle lenses.

By the close of the 1950s, stereo photography had again largely lost its appeal. Yet, despite the decline in sales and popularity of the Stereo Realist, the David White Company did not cease production of the camera until 1972, having sold approximately 250,000 cameras.

[Sources: "The History of Stereo Photography" online at; "The Biography of Sir Charles Wheatstone;" "Seton Rochwite" online at; "Dr. T's Stereo Realist Page" online at; Moxom, Ray. "Cameras We Use - The Stereo Realist" online at; David White Company website online at]


Posted on September 27, 2007

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