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Who Invented Photo Slides?

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By Katy Sommerfeld

In the age of digital photography, it’s difficult to imagine a time when taking a still photograph of a moment was an impossibility. Living in a culture of constant entertainment through social media, television, and film can make us forget that, at one point in time, people would gather around a rudimentary projector to view blurry or unclear images on a wall and call it entertainment.

The truth is that at that point in time, viewing images in this way was considered revolutionary.
Early projectors and hand-painted slides were some of the highest quality entertainment our ancestors could take in. It was those early glass slides projected onto a wall that paved the way for 19th and 20th-century inventors to create more sophisticated versions, leading to the photography and projection technology we have today. So who started it all? Who invented the first slide and projector?

The Magic Lantern

The first slides produced were called lantern slides. These slides were essentially hand-painted glass pieces that would be projected by “magic lanterns,” an early form of the slide projector. Magic lanterns were created by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century, who based his designs on the German monk Athanasius Kircher’s earlier projection system. In fact, the oldest known lantern slide is a drawing by Huygens of a skeleton taking off its skull. Creepy, right?


Magic lanterns were metal boxes with a tube for light to enter in on the top and a concave lens that projects a magnified image onto a wall. Painted lantern slides would be placed directly behind the lens, and once light passed through the glass and through the lens, people could view the images on a wall opposite the magic lantern. For the first time, images could be projected for an audience to see. People would gather to view picture shows, similar to how we might go see a movie in theaters today.


The Hyalotype

Modern slides made of film weren’t introduced until the mid-19th century. Lantern slides made of transparent film were created in 1849 by William and Frederick Langenheim, about ten years after photography was first invented. The change in material made lantern slides easier to produce and more light was able to pass through them during projection, making a clearer image. The Langenheims’ slides were mostly black and white with a slight tint to make the projected image appear more clearly. It wasn’t until 1916 that truly colored slides were invented. 


The Modern Slide

The photo slides that most of us viewed growing up were much more advanced than those produced by the Huygens or the Langenheim brothers. The Kodachrome slide came about in 1935 and introduced a three-color developing process that allowed for easy coloring of photographs for the first time. John Capstaff was the mind behind the three-color process and when Kodachrome slides were paired with modern electric projectors, viewing photographs became a much richer experience. The Kodachrome slide was the last installment in the series of improving slide technology. 


Kodachrome slides are no longer in production, but millions of people worldwide still have photo slides from decades past. If you have a collection of photo slides, it’s time to bring them into the present age with digitization. Southtree can take your photo slides of various sizes and create digital copies of them so that you can save them to your computer and have access to them for many years to come. Nothing lasts forever, including your slides, so what are you waiting for? Get them digitized today.

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