M970.92.1.1-4 | Magic lantern

Magic lantern
1879-1900, 19th century
28.5 x 15.5 cm
Gift of Mr. Richard C. Webster
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Magic lantern (1)
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Keys to History

The magic lantern is a projector - an optical system used to form the image of an illuminated object on a surface. The principle of image projection has been known since ancient Egypt; however, it took the discovery in the early 19th century of more powerful sources of illumination for magic lanterns to become readily available.

In the first half of the 19th century, magic lantern projections were mostly for entertainment. Among the favoured subjects in magic langern shows were news, travel and exploration. In the last half of the century, magic lanterns, which by then used glass photographic slides, became very popular for educational purposes.

  • What

    This magic lantern was operated using a kerosine lamp, although other combustible oils such as vegetable oils and quicklime were also used in magic lanterns before the advent of electricity.

  • Where

    The magic lantern was a very useful tool for illustrating a lecture. It was used extensively at McGill University for teaching purposes.

  • When

    This magic lantern was made between 1879 and 1900.

  • Who

    Frank Dawson Adams (1859-1942), the renowned geologist, was one of the first professors at McGill University to use a magic lantern during his lectures. He taught at McGill from 1889 to 1924.