Before film or television, stereographs were a form of popular entertainment and an early three-dimensional technology. The two lenses of a stereograph camera are about as far apart as human eyes and therefore take slightly different views of the same scene. When viewed through a stereo viewer, the images combine to appear three dimensional.

Although there were stereoscopic daguerreotypes, not until photographs were reproduced on a mass scale did stereo cards and viewers enter most middle class homes.

Woman and man posing for cabinet card with stereoscope

Before the development of color photography, studios would paint prints by hand.

Beard Residence, Flax Hill, no date | Albumen print, one hand tinted | E. T. Whitney | St-Ph 5592 | City of Norwalk

People could obtain sets of cards that told funny stories like Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed’s New French Cook (shown below), or Sedate College Girls at School. Stereocards could transport viewers to faraway places, show them current events, or teach them through museum tours.

Stereocard viewers visually block off the outside world. One humorous stereocard from the 1860s plays on how absorbing stereograph viewing was – a stereocard salesman steals a kiss from a man’s wife as he looks at the latest views (see slideshow below).
19th Century Stereoscope