The History of Photo Slides
The History of Photo Slides
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The History of Photo Slides

By Katy Sommerfeld

We’ve all seen photo slides in our grandparents’ houses or in school classrooms. It was so fun to sit and watch each photo pop up on a wall as they clicked through a carousel projector. You might remember another version of photo slides, Viewmaster goggles. These goggles would be strapped to your head, and you could scroll through a set of backlit photographs one at a time as they would appear in the goggle lenses.

Slides were pretty cool back in the day!
Before movies, before television, all we had were still photos. For entertainment purposes, people would gather around and watch a slideshow of photo slides projected onto the nearest wall. A genius idea, right? But how did those little photos surrounded in cardboard frames come to be? Dive in with us as we look at the history of photo slides, slide projectors, and photographic coloring processes. 

Magic Lanterns

In the 17th century, glass slides and magic lanterns were used as a prominent method of entertainment. Glass slides with images painted on them would be projected by magic lanterns, an early form of a slide projector, and showed to audiences. These magic lanterns and slides are the earliest known forms of photo slides and slide projectors. For over 100 years, these magic lanterns and slides were the only projection style machinery available. 

The Hyalotype

In 1850, brothers William and Frederick Langenheim developed a new form of slide technology called the Hyalotype. A Hyalotype was a glass side that contained a positive photographic image copied from a negative. This was the first photographic slide, rather than a painted slide like what was originally used for the magic lanterns. The Langenheims’ Hyalotype could be projected via lantern and showed to audiences. It was the first time photographic images could be projected. 

The First Color Slides

The earliest commercially known photographic coloring process was called the Lumiere Autochrome process. This was an additive process that used a panchromatic emulsion on a  thin glass plate that had been previously coated with dyed potato starch grains. German company Agfa and British company Dufaycolor also used similar processes to create color photographs in slides. These color slides were a major update compared to the black-and-white Hyalotypes of the 1800s.


Kodak’s three-color process, Kodachrome, came onto the scene in 1935, and one year later it’s 35mm slide was invented. Kodachrome is a subtractive coloring method, compared to the earlier Lumiere Autochrome additive method. Kodachrome was the first commercially successful coloring process to use the subtractive method. 

The Modern Slide Projector 

After the invention of the photographic slide, new slide projectors came onto the scene, booting out the magic lanterns of the olden days. In 1965, the first carousel slide projector was patented and sold to Eastman Kodak by its inventor, David E. Hansen. The carousel slide projector quickly became the most popular projector for photographic slides. 

That is the history of the photo slide and its companion equipment and technology. Cool, right? There’s a lot more to the outdated format than meets the eye. Photo slides are a major player in the history of communal entertainment. Before we had major motion picture films and Hollywood, magic lantern shows were the best places to be on a Friday night. Before computers, slideshows using carousel projectors were a revolutionary idea.


It’s crazy to think of how far slides have come now, as everything is digital these days. Since we’re living in a digital world now, why not take your old photo slides and bring them into the future with everything else? Legacybox can digitize your photo slides simply and easily. We offer free shipping and handling, amazing customer support, step-by-step tracking, and so much more. Check out our website today for more information!

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