The Stereo Realist – 1947

The Stereo Realist – 1947

Stereo realist

In 1943, Seton Rochwite, a youthful engineer, went to the David White Company in Milwaukee for a job interview. Seton brought with him a stereo viewer, which he had actually made, and color stereo slides that he used with his prototype stereo photographic camera, just to show some of the stuff he was capable of. The general supervisor of the firm, Theodore Salzer, found the stereo slides intriguing but he was not really sure if the company (a producer of precision surveying instruments) would be really interested in producing something such as that. Seton did not have this in mind when he showed the slides, but he got inspired with the approach and created a review on the possibilities of the stereo camera.

It required David White 9 months to figure out, and despite a relatively negative market study and no experience in the production of photographic products, the firm decided to go ahead and create a full stereo system:

  • camera
  • viewer
  • mounting equipment and supports

That’s how the Stereo Realist was created. Seton Rochwite was employed in the autumn of 1943 and began working on the design of the unit. He designed the camera, viewer (red button) and also the Realist logo. By 1947 the Realist was ready and Seton, feeling that his work was accomplished (and being tired of the climate in Milwaukee) quit his job and moved ahead to deal with new endeavors.

The Stereo Realist was actually launched in May of 1947 and it was an immediate success! Part of this success was due to the fact that the bugs were figured out during the many years of research and development. The other element was the realism and repercussion of the 35mm color slides watched in a great stereo viewer. (It is this exact same effect that attracts folks to stereo these days and keeps them asking why this remarkable visual experience has been retained a secret!) H. C. McKay shows this enthusiasm in the 2nd publication of his book written in 1953. There is a definite improvement in spirit between the 2 publications (1949 & 1953) and it is well worth reading both.

We have first hand records coming from individuals waiting in lines to trade their pricey Leica cameras for a Stereo Realist. The price of the Stereo Realist was $160 and $20 for the viewer. Adjusted for inflation today this amount is well more than $1000, which seems very expensive by today’s standards. Having said that, it was in line with other good cameras of the period, but still out of reach for the average hard-working American.

For the very first years, the Stereo Realist was simply “the only game in town” and had a difficult time keeping up with the demand. Profits from the Stereo Realist jumped from 9 % of the overall company sales in 1947, to 67 % in 1952! Various other companies rushed to take advantage of this explosion, leading in a dozen or so new stereo cameras. In 1955 Kodak launched its own Stereo camera for half the price of the Realist. This was the start of the end for the stereo Realist.

Through the end of the ’50s, stereo was really decreasing and stereo affairs were closing. Even with declining sales, the Stereo Realist continued with old and new products. Unfortunately, in 1972 the David White Company closed its stereo camera branch. Luckily, Ron Zakowski purchased the remaining parts and machinery. The David White Company is still in business doing what it did before the Realist come along. Ron Zakowski retired in June of 1997.

If you are interested in buying a Stereo Realist Camera, follow this link: http://shop.vintagecameraclub.com/product/stereo-realist-rangefinder-camera/

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