Seeing Double: Extraordinary Stereographs From the 1800s - Atlas Obscura
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Seeing Double: Extraordinary Stereographs From the 1800s

Reflection in a globe with camera and tripod, 1870Reflection in a globe with camera and tripod, 1870. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Of all the forms of early photography, the stereograph was the most popular, affordable and successful. First invented in London by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, a stereograph was two nearly identical images placed side by side. By working with the slightly differing viewpoints of the left eye and right eye, the twin images could become one three-dimensional picture when viewed through a device called a stereoscope.

During the mid to late 1800s, countless images were made for every possible subject. Stereographs were so popular that it was said that every home had a stereoscope. The stereograph was also used to educate. During the Civil War in particular, thousands of stereographs were produced of soldiers, battlefields, encampments and hospitals. 

There are many stereograph collections around the world, and each provides a unique insight into life in the 1800s. Atlas Obscura has scoured through admittedly only a portion of the mammoth collections held by the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library to bring you a glimpse of one of the 19th century’s most popular forms of entertainment.  

1903. Camel drivers waiting at gate of the Taj Mahal, Agra, IndiaCamel drivers waiting at gate of the Taj Mahal, India, 1903. (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

Angel and devil try to influence a friar, late 1800sA staged stereograph showing an angel and devil try to influence a friar, late 1800s. (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

1899. A Company barber shop. Possibly Spanish-American WarA Company barber shop, possibly during the Spanish-American War, 1899.  (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

'The apple woman', Boston Common‘The apple woman’, Boston Common. (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

Vacation sports at Coney Island, 1898Vacation sports at Coney Island, 1898. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Looking up his pedigree, 1898Looking up his pedigree, 1898. (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

c.1915. Wright aeroplane (close view) ready for a flight, Fort Myer, Va.Wright aeroplane ready for a flight, Fort Myer, 1915. (Photo: Library of Congress)

President Roosevelt's inauguration address, 1905President Roosevelt’s inauguration address, 1905. (Photo: Library of Congress

Major General William T. Sherman, center, leaning on the breach of a cannon, with his staff at Federal Fort No. 7 near Atlanta, Georgia.Major General William T. Sherman, center, leaning on the breach of a cannon, with his staff at Federal Fort No. 7 near Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Library of Congress)

1865. the first Union wagon train entering Petersburg, Virginia, with provisions after the Rebels were forced to evacuate.The first Union wagon train entering Petersburg, Virginia, with provisions, 1865. (Photo: Library of Congress)

San Francisco's magnificent City Hall and Hall of Records, destroyed by fire and earthquake, 1906San Francisco’s magnificent City Hall and Hall of Records, destroyed by fire and earthquake, 1906. (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr)

Frederick Villiers, the greatest of living war artists, in the 1905 Russo-Japanese warFrederick Villiers, ‘the greatest of living war artists’, during the 1905 Russian-Japanese war. (Photo: Boston Public Library/flickr