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Online Shopping Circa 1950

12/14/2009 02:00:00 PM

A woman showing one of the Vis-O-Matic slides.I love old photographs. So when a friend pointed me toward a Web site called www.shorpy.com, I quickly became addicted.

A little background: The oddly named site houses a massive online collection of photos from about the Civil War era to the mid-1980s, although the vast majority are pre-1950. If you are truly curious about the name, just go to the very first photo posted and you will find your answer. I had been hoping to come across something on the site that would give me the excuse to write a blog about it for TWICE. So after several days of off and on searching, I finally found a set of photos more or less related to retailing and CE.viso11.jpg

The following three images are taken from a Life Magazine series from 1950 that detail the use of how color slides of products were used to show customers what was for sale at a catalog store in Pembroke, Ontario. From what I can understand, the customers would sit in a chair, watch slides and then place their order.

The creator, Laurence Freiman, named it the Vis-O-Matic.

(The top photo shows a very well dressed lady displaying one of the Vis-O-Matic slides. The middle has two customers using the system and the final image shows the ultra-modern Rolodex that connected the products to the slides.)

Vis-O-Matic was kind of a Home Shopping Network without the network, or a pre-historic cousin to Amazon.com.

viso3.jpgA Google search did not turn up much on the Vis-O-Matic, but considering that thousands of Vis-O-Matic-based stores did not appear across the United States and Canada since 1950, I think we have to mark this venture off as something that happened a bit before its time.

I still think it’s great that even 59 years ago someone knew, deep down in his heart, that the average North American would rather shop while sitting in a comfortable chair instead of aimlessly wandering around a store.

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