Moving pictures before the Movies


The magic lantern slide projector enabled 18th and 19th century audiences to see moving pictures on a big screen long before the birth of the movies in 1895. The illusion of movement was created by hand painted glass slides that had a mechanical component, such as two circular discs rotating in opposite directions to create a kaleidoscope effect or one piece of glass slipping in front of another to produce a transformation which, if skilfully executed by the lanternist, could simulate realistic movement.

Many of these slides were used to amuse an audience ….. a school teacher who’s moving eyes would glare at audience members, a man who swallowed rats when sleeping with his mouth open or a dentist pulling teeth. Some moving slides were topical, reflecting political events or famous performers and because their original context has been forgotten, they are now difficult to interpret. Many of the humorous slides are no longer funny because the ‘joke’ is unacceptably racist or sexist. However, some that have survived can still make an audience laugh out loud or create spectacular effects that make them gasp in surprise.


I’ve created some Youtube videos to illustrate the different types of movement and you can visit my Channel here.

I’m surprised how difficult it is to make a good, professional-looking, YouTube video and I’m not particularly happy with the results so far. I’m still working on my technique and will hopefully improve as I make more. If you are even mildly entertained by them, please ‘like’ and ‘share’ my efforts so far.


Note: The first known performance of the ‘man eating rats’ slide (watch the movie) was in the 1850s and it is still a favourite with kids (of all ages) today. I’ve had audiences shouting at me to show it again and again! Amazing! 


If you found this interesting, please share it with your family and friends. If you’re not reading it on my ‘Magic Lantern World‘ website, then please visit. There are over one hundred illustrated articles about Victorian slide projection and links to my historical photo-booklets on Amazon, my Ebay shop for magic lantern slides and Etsy store for historical photo greetings cards with a twist. You can read about my authentic Victorian magic lantern shows and talks on ‘Optical entertainments before the movies’ and lots more!

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