Vintage slide projectors include the magic lantern, a single slide projector from the 1700s, through to the 1965 Kodak Carousel projector with automatic slide loading for up to 140 images. Magic lanterns were a popular form of public entertainment before movies and there are many manufacturers and variations. By the 20th century, 35-millimeter slide projectors replaced magic lanterns, and the shows moved from theatres to family homes and boardrooms.
Magic lanterns combine a light source and lens to project an image onto a screen. The earliest versions used oil lamps and hand-painted glass slides, and the weak light limited the available detail. Improved light sources, notably “limelight,” greatly improved the experience. The advent of photography also changed what the magic lanterns could project. Instead of hand-painted images, photo transfers onto glass plates gave audiences a real picture of locations and events. Magic lantern shows often included “phantasmagoria,” with images of ghosts, demons and other spirits. By the middle of the 19th century photographic exhibitions, accompanied by lectures, became popular.
Movies and modern photographic equipment doomed the magic lantern and gave birth to the modern slide projector. Standardized 35-millimeter transparencies, or “slides,” worked with any projector, so putting on a show often required nothing more than a collection of slides and an available projector. Slide projection became popular in business and academia for presentations and lectures. Agfa, Bell and Howell, Leitz, and Kodak all offered a variety of single slide and magazine loading for slides.
Slide shows at home became popular in the 1950s as the equipment prices dropped, and slide shows for business use increased as well. By the 1990s, digital image projection spelled the end of the slide show.