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Developing in tandem with photography, stereography began in Great Britain in the 1830s with Sir Charles Wheatstone’s experimental stereoscope. This instrument allowed a viewer to look through two lenses that focused on a card containing two nearly identical images, giving the viewer the illusion of a single image in three-dimensions.
Stereo views, also known as stereo cards or stereographs, became popular with the general public once Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the American physician and poet, adapted the technology to create a hand-held stereoscope in 1859. By 1875 over 100 American photographers maintained trade lists of more than 1,000 stereoviews each. By the turn of the century, few American homes were without a stereoscope and a selection of views, and American libraries began collecting stereoviews in the thousands.
Stereographic companies formed in the United States as early as the 1850s, sending photographers around the country and the world in order to capture new and unique views. Several companies printed up to 25,000 stereoviews per day, selling individual and boxed-sets of views via door-to-door salesmen and mail order catalogs.
While early stereoviews were flat cards, the curved card mount was developed in 1879 to accentuate the effect of three-dimensions. It quickly took over the market. The advent of the phonograph, movies and radio in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, displaced stereoviews as popular entertainment, leading to the decline of their manufacture.
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