The History of Stereo Photography

Early context

In 280 A.D., Euclid was the first to recognize that depth perception is obtained when each eye simultaneously receives one of two dissimilar images of the same object. In 1584 Leonado da Vinci studied the perception of depth and, unlike most of contemporaries, produced paintings and sketches that showed a clear understanding of shading, texture and viewpoint projection. Around the year 1600, Giovanni Battista della Porta produced the first artificial 3-D drawing based on Euclid’s notions on how 3-D perception by humans works. This was followed in 1611 when Kepler's Dioptrice was published which included a detailed description of the projection theory of human stereo vision.

Early stereo photography

Queen Victoria visited the World's Fair in London in 1851 and was so entranced by the stereoscopes on display that she precipitated an enthusiasm for three-dimensional photography that soon made it a popular form of entertainment world-wide.


The taking and viewing of stereo photographs was a popular pass time in the nineteenth century.

It was Sir Charles Wheatstone who in 1833 first came up with the idea of presenting slightly different images to the two eyes using a device he called a reflecting mirror stereoscope. When viewed stereoscopically, he showed that the two images are combined in the brain to produce 3-D depth perception. The invention of the Brewster Stereoscope by the Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster in 1849 provided a template for all later stereoscopes. This in turn stimulated the mass production of stereo photography which flourished alongside mono-photography. Stereo photography peaked around the turn of the century and went out of fashion as movies increased in popularity. In 1939 William Gruber saw a way to make use of the newly invented flexible 35mm film by Kodak and teamed up with Harold Graves to form the View-Master company. These toys first became available during the 1940's and are still available today.

Wheatstone was the first to demonstrate stereopsis using a crude stereo viewing device.

Sir Charles Wheatstone, 1802-1875 - he also invented the concertina!

Here are some early stereoscope viewers courtesy of Bert

 Perfecscope. Ca. 1905
This is a Homes type stereoscope, named after its inventor, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1860)

PlastoscopePlastoscope; Dr. R. Krügener. Ca. 1899
This stereoscope contains a revolving mechanism for 24 stereophotographs.

Brewster stereoscopeBrewster type stereoscope. Ca. 1860
This type of stereoscope was invented by Sir David Brewster in 1849.

VivascopeVivascope; Harry Cox. Ca. 1920
One of the many cheap cardboard stereoscopes.




The discovery of anaglypic 3-D appeared in the 1850's as the result of experiments by the Frenchman Joseph D'Almeida. Color separation took place using red/green or red/green filters and early anaglyphs were displayed using glass stereo lantern slides.William Friese-Green created the first 3-D anaglypic motion pictures in 1889 which first went on show to the public in 1893. These anaglypic films designated as plasticons or plastigrams enjoyed great success during the 1920's. The films used a single film with the green image emulsion on one side of the film and the red image emulsion on the other. In 1922, an interactive plasticon opened at the Rivoli Theater in New York titled "Movies of the Future". The film provided the viewer with an optional ending. The happy ending was viewed using the green filter whilst the tragic ending could be seen using the red filter.

Plastigram advert

Three dimensional movies called plastigrams were a common form of entertainment during the 1920's.

Image of viewmaster

View-Master became a popular toy for children from their introduction in 1939.

In 1932, Edwin H Land patented a process for producing polarized filters that eventually led to the development of full color 3-D movies. This was possible because the left/right separation could be achieved using the polarizing filters rather than the color channel. Land also perfected a 3-D photographic process called vectography. During the second world war vectographic prints were used widely for military applications such as aerial photography.

* What are Stereo Images?
* Dates in Vision Science
* Cool Stereo Images
* Ways of making Stereo Images with Computers
* Technical Information about Stereophotography

* Stereo gear

* more info

Copyright © 1996 The Turing Institute. All rights reserved.
Revised: July 31st, 1996