Sir David Brewster, 1946

History | How it works | What became of it | Sources
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The chromatrope was developed 29 years after Brewster invented the similar, more familiar kaleidoscope in 1817.  When lit from behind by a magic lantern, the chromatrope can create the same colorful, constantly changing pattern visible on an ordinary kaleidoscope.  However, a much larger pattern can be viewed from the chromatrope when the pattern is backlit and projected onto a clear wall.

How it works:

Magic lanterns could project kaleidoscopic patterns in the same way ordinary slides were projected.  However, the chromatrope was different from the majority of slides.  It was a mechanical slide, meaning there were moving parts inside that were responsible for making the changing patterns.  The chromatrope is made up of several disks of glass that turn when rotated by an exterior handle.  The handle is not directly attached to the disks of glass, but rather, the handle drives a set of gears that then turn the glass disks.  The disks are painted with colorful designs, and when lit from behind by a magic lantern, the changing patterns are projected onto a wall.

What became of it:

Although chromatropes are no longer being made, kaleidoscopes produce similar colorful patterns and remain a popular children's toy.  Of the thaumatrope, stereoscope, or any other optical toy that has survived into the 21st century, kaleidoscopes are perhaps the most popular.  The descendants of the chromatrope and early kaleidoscopes can be found in virtually every toy store in America.


About the chromatrope, plus an animation of a working chromatrope

Origin of this magic lantern version (see bottom of page)