A Brief History of Stereoscopy

This text is excerpted from a posting to a discussion group and mailing list called P3D. The author is Dr. George Themelis, and the text is reprinted here with his kind permission.

Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 12:11:52 -0500 (EST)
From: DrT-3d@postoffice.worldnet.att.net
To: photo-3d@calcite.rocky.edu
Subject: P3D Concise History of Stereoscopic Imaging
Message-ID: <199801141711.MAA18273@piglet.INS.CWRU.Edu>

Briefly, this is my understanding of the history of stereo:

1. Until 1833 various people (Euclid, Leonardo DaVinci, etc.) had made
remarks and observations regarding our two-eyed vision but no one really
understood how stereoscopic vision works.

2. In 1833, Charles Wheatstone (of the "Wheatsone Bridge" fame, a device to
measure resistance), an experimental physicist and, at the time, Professor
of Philosophy at Kings College in London, made the most significant advance
any individual has made.  Wheatstone did three things:

a) Invented the mirror stereoscope
b) Produced the first stereoscopic drawings ever made
c) Gave an essentially correct explanation of stereopsis 

He presented a paper in front of the Royal Society of London in 1833, entitled
"On Some Remarkable and Hitherto Unobserved Phenomena of Binocular Vision".  
This paper was published in 1838 in the Philosophical Transactions of
the Royal Society of London.  You can find this volume in the libraries
of many universities and make copies of the original.

3. Why did Wheatstone use drawings and not actual stereoscopic pictures? 
Because there was no photography in 1833!  Actually, photography was just
coming out and one of the first applications of photography was to take
stereo pairs. Wheatstone in his second paper on the subject, 14 years
later (1852) writes that 6 months after the appearance of his first paper,
at his request, Talbot (Paul? :-)) and coworkers took the first stereoscopic
photographs of statues, buildings and even portraits of living persons. 
These were the first stereoscopic photographs ever recorded...

4. A person who worked hard to make stereo popular was David Brewster,
professor of Mathematics in England.  He invented the more compact
refractive viewer (uses lenses) and advocated mounting the pair side by
side.  Failing to find interest in UK he went to France to have his viewers
made.  His efforts were justified in 1851 during the London Exhibition when
Queen Victoria was evidently amused by various stereopairs.  And this leads

5. Explosion of popularity of stereo views: 1850-1880.  Millions of
stereoscopes were sold ("No home without a Stereoscope").

6. Decline of interest as we enter the 20th century.  Keystone last US
company to market stereo views.  Shifts to educational market... until:

7. Late 30s Kodachrome is invented.  People realize the combination of
STEREO and COLOR is hard to beat.  William Gruber invents View-Master in
1938.  David White introduces the Stereo Realist in 1947.  A new wave of
popularity is ahead.  Peaks around 1955.  Declines by 1960.  Realist closes
stereo camera operation in early 70s.

8. Approaching the 21st century we see new interest, sparked in part by
computers.  Dr. T starts a stereo club in Cleveland.  The rest is just
current events.

 -- George Themelis

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