Google+ Georgia On My Mind: Stereoscopes: A View Back in Time

Monday, June 10, 2013

Stereoscopes: A View Back in Time

I regularly visit our local history museum in Douglasville for obvious reasons since I research and write about local history for our local news outlets and my Douglas County history blog as well.

The volunteers had moved a few things around. There were even some new exhibits including this:

Do you know what it is?

Well, think of a Viewfinder if you grew up in the 1960s or 70s like I did, and you will be on the right track.

Yes!  You viewed pictures through the contraption, but not just any picture.

You viewed a picture card that looked like this:

Wisegeek tells us that a stereoscope is a viewing device which allows users to create a three-dimensional image from a set of two-dimensional photographs or drawings,

Wisegeek further advises the viewer would peer through a rudimentary binocular system, which forced each eye to see only one of the two images. By either crossing or diverging one's eyes, a third image would eventually appear in the middle, and this image would provide the illusion of depth for as long as the viewer maintained proper concentration and focus.

The stereoscope was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838. He was a British physicist and was one of the inventors of the telegraph. Of course, in the earliest days the images were drawn by hand, but after photography entered the mix stereoscopes became very popular.

In 1851, Queen Victoria was able to view images through the stereoscope at the Crystal Palace Exhibition, and she was most certainly amused. Around 1860, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.....yes, THE statesman Oliver Wendell Holmes took the British version and streamlined the design making it more affordable.

He actually wrote an article about the stereoscope for The Atlantic in 1859.

Take a look again at the stereograph I posted above. Notice the colored border around the pictures? It isn't just there for looks. The border actually adds to the three-dimensional quality of the image.

The device entered mainstream America, and its popularity took off like a rocket. Soon it seemed that everyone had one.

Stereoscopes were educational. Folks in the South could see how folks in the West lived. You could see parts of the United States as well as the world that most people would never be able to reach. Rail transportation and industry became a popular theme as well as rural and city scenes.

There were even nude stereographs, too.

Over 300 million stereographs were issued between 1854 and 1920. Families could purchase some of the images six for a dollar. Cheaper stereographs went for three cents each or eighty-five cents for 100. They were found in drugstores, mail order catalogs, given away as premiums by tea and cereal companies and college students even went door to door to sell them. Carl Sandburg actually made a few dollars selling stereograms.

It wasn't long before the equipment made its way into America classrooms and photo sets were being marketed for schools. I'm fairly certain the nude ones were left off the school inventory lists.

Today, the stereograms or photographs are more collectable than the viewer. I've even thought of collecting some of my own, but want to decide on a topic or theme first.

In the meantime, I've found several stereograms online that depict life in Savannah, Atlanta, Augusta, and many other Georgia locations. I'll be posting them over the next several days on Facebook.

Are you a Facebook friend with "Georgia on my Mind"?  It's easy to do. Find the "like" box over on the left sidebar and click the "like" button.

See you on Facebook!

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