Jack Judson Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern is the earliest form of slide projector. The first published image of the device appeared in Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, by Athanasius Kircher in the late 1600’s. Images were painted on glass and projected on walls, cloth drapes, and, sometimes, on a wet cloth from behind the “screen”.

Naturally, to see images appear, either from a lantern, that heretofore was a light source only, or onto a screen, was “magical” in those early days.

With the advent of photography in the mid-1800’s, it became possible to produce black-and-white images on glass in greater numbers. Still, they had, for the most part, to be hand-tinted or painted until reliable color photographic processes became available much later. Some slides were made by applying decals or transfers to the glass.

Until movies came along, in the mid-to-late 1890’s, the magic lantern was the sole projection device available.

Though glass slides would indicate a still image, many innovations in magic lantern design and construction, as well as slide design (moving layers of glass images), allowed dissolving images, movement, and special effects.

Thus, the magic lantern became “the Father of motion pictures, and the Grandfather of television.”


We welcome any and all inquiries regarding Magic Lanterns, including identifying them as to makers, dates, origins, and restoration. All information is free, but all copying and/or mailing will be charged at cost to the requestor.

For E-Mail:
Magic Lantern Castle Museum
San Antonio, Texas

For Post Mail:
Witte Museum
3801 Broadway St
San Antonio, TX 78209
By Phone: (210) 357-1900