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, click here 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 Brewster.



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 of war, 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 of Viewmaster 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.

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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.