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University of Louisville University Libraries


Digital Collections

Stereographic Views of Louisville and Beyond, 1850s - 1930

About Stereographs

A stereograph, also known as a stereogram or stereo view, is a double photograph that appears three-dimensional when viewed through a stereoscope. Scientist Charles Wheatstone invented a reflecting stereoscope in 1838 as a laboratory instrument. Some photographers did use this instrument to exhibit photographs, but it was not until the development of the lenticular stereoscope in 1850 by Sir William Brewster that stereographs became popular. They reached their height of popularity between 1870 and 1890 but continued to be created until as late as 1940.

The term "stereograph" is said to have originated with Oliver Wendell Holmes who, in addition to being an author, poet, physician, and lecturer, invented a hand stereoscope in 1859. Holmes also published two essays about the cards in the Atlantic Monthly: "The Stereoscope and Stereograph" (June 1859, volume 3, issue 20) and "Sun-Painting and Sun-Sculpture" (July 1861, volume 7, issue 43), both of which can be accessed through Cornell University Library's Making of America site.

By the mid-1850s, several companies were engaged in the mass-production and sale of stereographs to hundreds of retailers throughout Europe and the United States, where European views were also very popular with American tourists. The mass-produced cards could be sold through photographers' studios, opticians, or art shops, or by publishers or mail-order businesses. When a photographer died or went out of business, the negatives were then sold to other photographers or to publishers. In some instances, identical copy negatives were sold to several publishers.

William Culp Darrah, who calls the stereograph the "first visual mass media," estimates that between 6,000 and 12,000 stereographers were producing images between 1860 and 1880 and that at least 5 million images had been produced. Their affordability, availability, and range of subjects, including city views, railroads, landmarks and scenic views, agriculture, the United States Civil War and other wars, exhibitions and expositions, costumes, disasters, and group compositions, among countless others, brought the experiences of travel and current events to the general population. To modern viewers, they serve as "a primary source for the study of nineteenth-century social history, reflecting social conventions and cultural values." (Fife)

A number of websites offer tips on viewing stereographs without the use of a stereoscope. One example is Instructables.

About the stereograph collections at the University of Louisville

This digital collection, which may be periodically updated with additional images, currently includes the following collections. Duplicates have been eliminated, and stereograph backs are only displayed if they contain explanatory text other than publication information.

Cody Collection, Photographic Archives (ULPA 1989.14) - 60 items
Donated by Mrs. John Cody, Jr., these stereographs attributed to local photographer Joseph Krementz include Louisville streets, the Ohio River and some of its bridges, the Louisville Water Company pumping station, and scenes of New Albany, Indiana dating from 1870-1890. Also included in the physical collection, but not online, is a photograph of 4th Street and Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Blvd) with a view of the Seelbach Hotel circa 1905-1910.

Stereos after 1978, Photographic Archives (ULPA 1979.05, 1999.42, 1999.43, 1999.50, 2000.65, 2000.118, 2001.22, 2001.24, 2001.28, 2001.32, 2001.48, 2002.14, 2002.30, 2002.45, 2003.05, 2003.14, 2006.21) - 22 items
These stereographs were acquired individually between 1979 and 2006 with a focus on Louisville and Kentucky images, and include three miscellaneous stereographs of Mammoth Cave (ULPA 1972.01.01, 2009.028.01, and 2009.028.02).

Wilburn Stereograph Collection, Photographic Archives (ULPA 1999.36) - 207 items
Donated by Mrs. Pat Wilburn, these stereographs primarily feature the built environment of Louisville and Kentucky, including views of the destruction caused by the 1890 tornado.

George Yater Papers, University Archives and Records Center (ULUA 005) - 366 items
George Yater History Collection, Photographic Archives (ULPA 2000.89 and 2000.95) - 101 items
Stereographs in these two collections were collected by Louisville native and historian George Henry Yater (1922-2006). Yater's interests, which are reflected in the stereograph collections, included Louisville history and transportation, specifically railroads and railways. The views include not only Kentucky but also Chicago, New York, central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, as well as some views of Europe. The views capture scenes of travel, agriculture, architecture, daily activities, and special events.

Conditions of Use

The University of Louisville welcomes fair use of this website and its contents. If you wish to publish, broadcast, or publicly display these materials, please notify Archives and Special Collections. In addition, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions, which may include paying fees for commercial use. For further information about permissions, use, and ordering reproductions, see Order Reproductions, or contact Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

To cite an image from this collection, please use the format: [Image number], [Collection], [Digital Publisher], Louisville, Kentucky. To cite the digital version, add its Reference URL (found by following the link in the gray header above the digital file).


The stereographs were scanned as 600 ppi TIFF images in 24-bit color. Using an Epson Expression 1680 flatbed scanner, Rachel Gunn scanned the Wilburn stereograph collection in November-December 2007; Misti K. Smith scanned the stereographs from the George Yater history collection, George Yater papers, and Stereos after 1978 collections from October 2008-February 2009; and Jennifer Hambley scanned the Cody collection in April 2009. Additional scanning of Yater stereographs was done by Carrie Daniels and Emily Symonds using a Linhof Kardan M overhead camera with 135mm Rodenstock lens, BetterLight digital scan back, and ViewFinder 7.4 software. Rachel I. Howard, Amy Hanaford Purcell, and Emily Symonds performed quality control on the scans. For everything except the Wilburn collection, Emily Symonds cropped and rotated the images using Photoshop CS3 and then batch converted the TIFFs to JPEGs of "best" quality and resized them to 600 pixels in the longest dimension using IrfanView version 3.98. Rachel I. Howard performed these tasks for the Wilburn collection using Photoshop CS2 and IrfanView version 4.23. All JPEGs were uploaded into CONTENTdm version 4.3.

Angel Clemons and Tyler Goldberg researched and created metadata for the Wilburn collection, and Emily Symonds researched and created metadata for the other collections, in accordance with the University of Louisville Digital Initiatives data dictionary (PDF). Most titles were printed or handwritten on the stereograph cards; the Description field includes a note for those supplied by catalogers.

The HTML pages were designed by Terri L. Holtze. Dwayne K. Buttler, J.D., provided copyright advice.


Cornell University Library. Making of America. (accessed 1 April 2009).

Darrah, William Culp. The World of Stereographs. Gettysburg, PA: Darrah, 1977.

Fife, Richard C. Stereographs at the American Antiquarian Society. (accessed 25 March 2009).

Sauer. D. (accessed 20 March 2017).

Waldsmith, John. Stereo Views: An Illustrated History & Price Guide. 2nd edition. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002.

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