Many of the pictures for this page are from antique stereo
slides and were converted to anaglyphic GIFs.
To view them in 3-D, you will need a pair of red/blue 3-d glasses
(the kind used to view 3-D movies). If you don't have a pair,
to order some.
HISTORY OF THE STEREOPTICON
The stereopticon was in some ways
the end-of-the-Nineteenth-century's equivalent of the end-of-the-Twentieth-century's
VCR. Though not inexpensive, at least one of these entertainment
devices was to be found in nearly every middle and upper class
parlor of the time.
The basics of how the stereopticon (and all other stereo viewing
devices) work were first laid out as far back as ancient Greece
when Euclid explained the principles of binocular vision. He demonstrated
that the right and left eyes see a slightly different version
of the same scene and that it is the merging of these two images
that produces the perception of depth.
Though some experiments in stereo viewing were conducted earlier
(most notably pairs of "stereo" drawings made by the
sixteenth century Florentine painter Jacopo Chimenti), the advent
of photography really made widespread 3-D viewing possible. The
first patented stereo viewer was Sir Charles Wheatstone's reflecting stereoscope in
1838. The device was a bulky and complicated contraption that
utilized a system of mirrors to view a series of pairs of crude
drawings. In 1844 a technique for taking stereoscopic photographs
was demonstrated in Germany, and a much smaller and simpler viewer
that utilized prismatic lenses was developed in Scotland by David
After Queen Victoria took a fancy to the stereoscope at the
Crystal Palace Exposition in 1851, stereo viewing became all the
rage in Britain. The United States trailed behind for some years,
but in 1862 Oliver Wendell Holmes and Joseph Bates came out with
the Holmes stereopticon, which soon dominated the world market
and became the standard stereoscopic device for decades (and is
still being produced in limited numbers).
The stereoscope slides that were produced allowed people to
sit in their own home and tour the world. The most popular slides
(judging from the number that you find around) were travelog type
slides that showed the world from the abbeys,
and countrysides of Europe to the pyramids
and tombs of ancient Egypt, to the farms
of the Midwest, or the sights of New York,
Chicago and San Francisco. The establishment
of Yellowstone as the first national park was helped by a series
of stereo views of the area that were distributed to members of
Congress in 1871.
In addition, the great events of the day found their way onto
the stereo slides. The building of the Panama Canal, the terrors
and the destruction of such natural disasters as the Johnstown
flood and the San Francisco earthquake were brought into peoples
homes in much the same way television does today. The Chicago
Worlds Fair of 1892 and the St. Louis Worlds Fair of
1904 could be enjoyed even by those who couldn't be there.
Humorous slides were also produced, usually entailing some
form of pun and often of a mildly risque nature.
By the 1870's, local commercial photographers had sprung up around the country
and for a fee would produce stereo slides of one's farm, shop,
or family. Because these slides were produced in far fewer numbers
than the commercially distributed ones, they are fairly rare and
highly sought after by collectors.
The stereoscope tradition continues even today in the form
viewers and reels, though it's viewed now a merely a child's toy.
For more information on stereoscopic viewing you can connect
with the National Stereoscopic Association.
Return to Adventures In 3-D
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This page was designed by Bill Gamber and Ken Withers. All stereo
images are drawn from our personal collection. For comments or
more information, you may e-mail either of us at ken-bill@\oneworld.com.
This page was last updated May, 1996.