- Historic Sites
A Vanished America In Stereo
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes asserted “a slight claim on the gratitude of mankind” for inventing a cheap and handy device for viewing three-dimensional photographs. History is still in his debt for the craze he started and the pictures it has left behind
December 1960 | Volume 12, Issue 1
The photographer’s wagon, like that of J. A. French of Keene, N. H., above, who was ready to furnish you with anything, including stereoscopic views, has gone the way of the head gripper and the wet plate. Portable cameras killed it, as lantern slides, post cards, halftone printing, and finally moving images sent the stereoscope to the attic. Dr. Holmes’s “slight claim” had been strong for fifty years, half the age of his one-horse shay. It vanished almost as suddenly.
Nevertheless we have good reason for another kind of gratitude to him. His instrument was a primary cause in the practice and improvement of photography. People loved those pictures with the illusion of solidity, and mothers saved them for the children from generation to generation. Now, those of us for whom history is visual as well as intellectual cherish whatever old slides we can find. We wipe off the dust and fit them between the wire holders of Dr. Holmes’s stereoscope. With the hood around our eyes we are carried away, as he was—but not so much from the Charles River to the Jordan as from now to then.