When our children were little, we all enjoyed playing with a toy camera that worked similarly to a View-Master. Unlike the View-Master, there were no reels to change. You simply clicked the big orange button on the front and watched one illustrated letter of the alphabet after another. I can almost hear the click of that big orange button now.
Before our big blue camera and before the View-Master, Americans enjoyed the stereoscope. In 1838 British scientist Charles Wheatstone discovered that looking at one drawing with one eye and another drawing that was similar but not exactly the same with the other eye caused a person’s brain to see a 3-D picture. He invented a table model for viewing these drawings. A later inventor developed a portable model you could hold in your hand.
The invention of photography made it possible to see real objects and real scenes in three dimensions. The principle was the same. The photographer simply took two almost identical photographs and placed them side by side on a card like this one that pictures a miniature model of Windsor Castle.
Suddenly people could vicariously go to all sorts of places. If you couldn’t go to Niagara Falls yourself, maybe you could see it in 3-D from your own parlor. You could even see Niagara Falls when it’s frozen.
In the early 1900s, you could order a set of 50 stereo view cards for 35 cents from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. Add on another 15 cents and you could order the stereoscope to view them, too. Sears even had a set to show behind the scenes at the Sears, Roebuck and Co. You could get a 3-D view of how they printed the catalog, how they answered letters, and even how they filled fabric bags with grain. One card had a picture of Mr. Sears. On the back was an invitation to come visit their operation in Chicago, but Mr. Sears wanted everyone to know that he might not actually be able to greet every visitor personally.
Imagine the homeschool possibilities! Instead of watching educational videos on the Internet, you could pop in one stereo view card after another. Let’s go to Independence Hall today, kids!
Or, how about the White House?
Remember the man who established the colony of Pennsylvania, children? Here is his silver tea service.
Sit down for literature, children. Let me introduce you to Charles Dickens.
Come here, kids. Let’s learn about The Story of Ping where it really happens—with real cormorants—in China!
And, you Mamas could even use stereo view cards for home decor ideas. “Hmmm. Today, I want to learn how to arrange flowers.”
And, if you need an idea for a party decoration sometime, you could always copy this cow and milkmaid—made out of real butter!
I don’t guess these old stereo views will replace Internet searches any time soon, but I had fun seeing how a homeschool day could have gone in the last half of the 19th century and early part of the 20th.
The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
The Lord has made both of them.