Optical Toys

Stereo Viewers, Zoopraxiscopes, and Zoetropes

In order to reach the widest audience and sell more images, many 19th-century photographers produced photographs to be used in stereo viewers or optical toys. Eadweard Muybridge was no exception. He produced and sold hundreds of stereographs, especially views of the Yosemite Valley. In a popular parlor pastime, families entertained themselves looking at the stereographs, which became three-dimensional when placed in handheld or tabletop viewers.

Tourist group in Yosemite Valley, 1867 Stereograph by Muybridge

The Midway at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The white arrow at the lower left points out Muybridge's Zoopraxigraphical Hall.

In his later photography, Muybridge reproduced his motion studies on strips to be used inside zoetropes. These popular devices provided viewers with the ability to animate photographs while spinning the top cylinder of the zoetrope and seeing the “moving” images through small slits. To animate his motion studies for audiences at his lectures, Muybridge invented a machine called a zoopraxiscope. Illustrations of his photographs of human and animal locomotion were drawn and reproduced on glass plates used in the machine. In 1893, Muybridge opened the Zoopraxigraphical Hall, on the Midway of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, for presentations using the zoopraxiscope. However, the machine was never a commercial success.

Zoopraxiscope designed by Muybridge to show drawings from his motion photographs (courtesy Kingston-upon-Thames Museum

Zoopraxigraphic fan sold by Muybridge in Chicago, 1893 Photos courtesy of Gordon Hendricks, Eadweard Muybridge: The Father of the Motion Picture