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The History of the Kaleidoscope

and Watcher David Brewster

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Animated Kaleidoscope

Animated Kaleidoscope

photographs by Gerald A. Bonsack
In 1816, the kaleidoscope was invented by Scottish scientist, Sir David Brewster, and patented by him in 1817 (GB 4136).

David Brewster named his invention after the Greek words, kalos or beautiful, eidos or form, and scopos or watcher. So kaleidoscope means the beautiful form watcher.

Brewster's kaleidoscope was a tube containing loose pieces of colored glass and other pretty objects, reflected by mirrors or glass lenses set at angles, that created patterns when viewed through the end of the tube.

Later in the early 1870’s, an American called Charles Bush improved upon the kaleidoscope and started the kaleidoscope fad. Charles Bush was granted patents in 1873 amd 1874 related to improvements in kaleidoscopes, kaleidoscope boxes, objects for kaleidoscopes (US 143,271), and kaleidoscope stands. Charles Bush was the first person to mass manufacturer his "parlor" kaleidoscope in America.

How They Work

The kaleidoscope creates reflections of reflections of a direct view of the objects at the end. The image will be symmetrical if the mirror angle is an even divider of 360 degrees. A mirror set at 60 degrees will generate a pattern of six regular sectors. A mirror angle at 45 degrees will make eight equal sectors, and an angle of 30 degrees will make twelve. The lines and colors of simple shapes are multiplied by the mirrors into a visually stimulating vortex.

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