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Issue Date: Vol. 51, No. 3, March 2011, Posted On: 3/27/2011


SeeCoast Manufacturing: Famed Maker Of Coin-Op Viewers Celebrates 50 Years In Business


Hank Schlesinger
swag@earthlink.net
SeeCoast Manufacturing, See Coast, SeeCoast anniversary, Fairhope AL, Geoff Cain, coin-operated viewer, coin-operated binoculars, coin-operated telescope, coin-op machine, coin-op business, vending, vending machine, vending business, tourist business, tourist attraction, national park, park, Stone Mountain

SeeCoast

For 50 years, SeeCoast Manufacturing has been bringing the world into sharp focus. The manufacturer of all-mechanical coin-operated telescopes and binoculars has built a reputation for sturdy reliability since it was founded in 1960. Today, the Fairhope, AL-based company's equipment can be found in all 50 states and more than 80 countries.

"My dad started the company in 1960," said Geoff Cain, SeeCoast's president. "He was an entrepreneur and restaurateur; he did it as a sideline. He wanted to put them out on fishing piers around Florida, but I envisioned a bigger business than that."

The first change came shortly after the company launched. The management of Stone Mountain Park in Georgia wanted SeeCoast units for use by visitors to the Confederate Memorial Carving of Confederate States president Jefferson Davis. Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson on horseback. Said to be the largest high-relief sculpture in the world, it was dedicated in 1970 after more than five decades work, and quickly proved a popular tourist attraction. However, while the standard SeeCoast telescope brought the sculpture up close and sharply focused, its angular coverage was not wide enough to allow taking in the entire scene at once.

SeeCoast therefore developed a wide-field instrument, which not only met the needs of the Stone Mountain site, but became a staple for locations that boast panoramic perspectives.

It wasn't long before the company began expanding into new locations. Cain, who took the reins in 1973, began an aggressive campaign of marketing SeeCoast telescopes and binoculars to new kinds of attractions. The coin-op viewers were installed atop the John Hancock Tower in Chicago, then the John Hancock Tower in Boston and the World Trade Center in New York City.

Today, it is difficult to find a major tourist attraction that doesn't boast a SeeCoast viewer, from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Riverwalk in New Orleans, and as far away as Dubai and Sri Lanka. The instruments are found in wildlife refuges and aboard riverboats and cruise ships.

SeeCoast presently markets three models. Its coin-operated instruments are the Mark I telescope and Mark III binocular; the Mark II is a non-coin binocular on a ligher mount.

The Mark I telescope stands 57" tall on its 4.5" diameter pillar support, which is fixed to a 30" diameter base. The 20X optical system is fitted into a 25" tube, 9" in diameter, and covers a 121-ft. field at 1,000 yards. The exterior is formed of durable powder-coated aluminum alloy. The Mark I is equipped with an altazimuth mount that allows 360° traverse and 73° vertical movement (33° elevation and 40° depression). It weighs 85 lbs.

The Mark III binocular viewer is 57" high; the 10X wide-field binocular features 40mm. objective lenses fitted into a 22" housing, 12" wide. It provides coverage of 366 feet at 1,000 yards, and combines all-around traverse with 100° vertical movement (50° up and 50° down). The instrument is supported by a 30" base, and weighs 105 lbs.

The noncoin Mark II binocular viewer has an optical specification similar to its coin-op stablemate. The optics are fitted into a 22"-long shell, 12" wide. Its mounting offers 360° traverse and 90° of vertical movement (45° up, 45° down). The assembled instrument stands 58" hight on a 2.5" diameter pillar, and weighs 32 lbs.

The best locations for SeeCoast viewers are, of course, heavily trafficked tourist attractions. They also have been profitably placed in less obviously suitable sites, ranging from zoos and fishing piers to retired U.S. Naval ships and botanical gardens.

"Usually, when prospects tell us the number of people in their area and visiting their location, we know whether it would be a great location, a profitable location," Cain said.

Today's SeeCoast viewers are made with the same quality as when they first hit the market. Built in the firm's 7,500-sq.ft. Fairhope plant, they feature brass interior parts in a sturdy aluminum alloy housing designed to withstand the toughest weather conditions.

Cain proudly reports that one of the first units to roll off of SeeCoast's assembly line -- more than 46 years ago -- is still in use at Disneyworld. The viewer, which actually predates the amusement park, still needs little maintenance to keep it in shape.

"We do the same thing we've always done for 50 years," Cain said. "There are people who get into this business with electronics, but they come and they go. We don't change."


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