Hologram of Toy Train

Hologram of Toy Train

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This glass plate records the hologram, “Toy Train” by Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks. Made in late 1963, this hologram demonstrated their method of making high-resolution three-dimensional images of three-dimensional objects. Their success at the University of Michigan’s Willow Run Laboratory came after several years work on advanced radar techniques and lensless photography for defense purposes.
Leith and Upatnieks created this transmission hologram by exposing a black and white photographic plate to the laser light reflected from a toy train model. The image is reconstructed in three dimensions when the correct laser light shines through the glass. When they displayed this hologram at a conference in April 1964, other scientists lined-up to see their breakthrough. “Toy Train” was not the first hologram ever made, but the quality of the image stunned everyone. And so it became the first hologram many people heard about. Since then, many other types of holograms have been devised.
In 1948, British scientist Dennis Gabor had used two beams of electrons to record a microscopic image. He then tried to make images of larger objects using filtered light from an arc lamp but obtained poor results. The invention of lasers in 1960 gave researchers a better light source for making three-dimensional photographs and spurred Leith and Upatnieks’ work.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Leith, Emmett N.
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
overall: 5 in x 4 in x 1/4 in; 12.7 cm x 10.16 cm x.635 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Emmett N. Leith and Juris Upatnieks
See more items in
Work and Industry: Photographic History
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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"The model train was a replica of the General. My father, an avid model railroader, built it from a kit. I used to play with it as a kid. Last time that I saw it was in 1972 in the Smithsonian."

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