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A lantern-slide-inspired look into biology teaching's past.


I have been urging for some years past that American education is seriously defective in that it provides an inadequate amount of training of the senses, particularly of the eye.

Charles W Elliot, Ph.D.

President-Emeritus of Harvard University, 1906 Introduction to Keystone's 600 Set Teachers' Guide

A gruesome scene certainly grabs attention (see Figure 1), but will gore help in training a student's senses--particularly in the way Dr. Elliot means in his introductory endorsement for Keystone's set of 600 educational lantern slides? The Keystone View Company must have thought so, because they selected a photograph showing three slaughtered hippos with wooden stakes holding their mouths agape as the picture advertising the company's educational 600 Set (see Figure 2).

"Magic lantern" was the name given to the first simple optical projection device created during the mid-1500s. This was before the development of the photographic process, so early lantern slides were miniature drawings or paintings on glass. Most early magic lanterns used a kerosene lamp as the illumination source, but the low intensity of a kerosene flame limited the use of the device to darkened rooms and restricted the projected image's size. Soon after, larger projectors capable of presentations to large theatre audiences were created. These "big image" magic lanterns used a hydrogen-and-oxygen gas flame aimed at a piece of lime to generate a powerful white light, giving rise to the name "limelight." Neither of the two types was suitable for classroom use; the first was too dim, the second too difficult to use. It was only after the invention of the electric light bulb as an illumination source that magic-lantern projectors became a practical addition to the classroom.

The name "magic lantern" sufficed during the years when it was a parlor entertainment device, but announcing to a class in the sciences that "today's lecture will be presented with the aid of a magic lantern" didn't sound terribly professional. Projectors advertised to educational institutions were given impressive high-tech aliases such as the Stereopticon, Balopticon, Delineascope, or Kinetoscope (see Figure 3). As impressive as the new brand names were, their renaming came too late. The "magic lantern" moniker had already become entrenched by more than a century's use, and most still call the projection devices magic lanterns. In fact, Turtox and other suppliers of biological materials called 35-mm projection slides or transparencies "lantern slides" in their biological supply catalogs until the early 1960s.

Giving a swanky name to the projector may have helped to raise the price, but more was needed to rouse the education community's interest in using the device as a teaching tool. That change required the availability of a large, inexpensively priced inventory of lantern slides. The Keystone View Company, manufacturers of home-use lantern-slide collections, jumped at the opportunity to fill that need.

* The Growth of the Keystone View Company

During the early 1900s, the Keystone View Company of Pennsylvania was the largest producer of stereoviews in the United States. These were flat cardboard cards printed with paired stereoscopic images and, in order to get a three-dimensional effect, viewed with both eyes through a two-lens viewer. The viewer was usually handheld and allowed only one person to see the picture at a time. Keystone View also made lantern slides for projection, which enabled group viewing. Many of the slides were made from one of the stereoview's paired negatives. Lantern slides were not stereoscopic but, being made directly from a film negative into a positive on glass by exposing a photosensitive emulsion, were sharper and had better tonal range than the stereoviews printed on photosensitized cardboard. B. L. Singley was Keystone's founder and original photographer, and, although he was competent enough to make a living by taking and selling photographs, he realized that salesmanship was his best talent. He began hiring others to do the picture-taking for him, thus freeing his time and energy to build Keystone View into a large, successful company (Dukesmith, 1904).



After the development of motion pictures in 1909, and with radio becoming a major form of home entertainment, the popularity of magic-lantern slides and stereoviews began a slow decline. Desperate to rescue his company from what he correctly predicted would be a continuing plunge in the popular lantern-slide market, Singley set a small army of salesmen onto school systems to generate a new market for lantern slides. The sales force's task was to promote a large lantern-slide collection that Singley put together for school use, named the 600 Set. It was a collection of six hundred 4- by 3.5-inch glass slides that came filed in a nine-drawer oak cabinet and weighed over a hundred pounds. For each of the slides there was a libretto that teachers could read aloud to classes while students gazed upon the projected images (see Figure 4). The scripts frequently ended with several questions useful for stimulating a class discussion or that could be given to students as an essay assignment.

But the crowning jewel of the 600 Set's sales pitch was the 347-page teachers' guide that accompanied the slide collection. Mostly, the manual was a cross-reference index that grouped the slides' file numbers, 1 to 600, with the various academic subject headings and subheadings to which they might apply, such as "Nature Study" or "Animals." For each of the general subject headings in the teachers' guide, there was an introduction written by a prominent professional in that particular field.


* Missing the Mark for Biology Educators

The Hippopotamus Hunt picture was the example chosen to advertise the lantern-slide collection in education journals. In the ad, Keystone asked the question, "Does it appeal to you that we can supply the equivalent of 6000 subjects and [sic] necessary to purchase only 600?" (see Figure 2). The rationale for the claim was the teacher's ability to use each slide in many different ways thanks to the extensive cross-referencing in the guide. Each lantern slide's reference number was repeatedly listed under the various academic disciplines with which they could be included--match-ups that often can't be justified without impressive stretches of logic. For example, the hippopotamus-hunt pictures were indexed under "Africa--Rhodesia," "Mutton--Deer--Sea Foods," "Silk--Leather," "Making Paper--Tobacco Irrigation" (under the subheading "Ivory"), "Fishing--Hunting--Mining," "Composition Topics," and "Elephants--Hippopotami." It is a testimony to Singley's salesmanship that he could not only adapt a home-entertainment slide collection for school use but also stretch tenfold the subject application of the slides. A part of the advertisement that does appear to be pure hype, at least in light of the biological references, is the idea that notable professionals in the field had anything to do with its creation other than producing what appear to be paid endorsements.
Figure 4. Textual material accompanying lantern slide.

Returning With Trophies from a Big Game

Big Game Hunting, Rhodesia, Africa

Keystone ID 17015

Africa is the hunter's paradise. Elephants, lions,
tigers, zebras, giraffes, hippopotamuses,
rhinoceroses, and other large beasts of the jungle and
plain are still to be found here in great numbers.
Every year hunters from Europe and America go to
Africa to try their rifles on the big game.

But hunting in Africa is a business. One would not
dare or care to plunge into the wilderness by himself.
Instead, a hunter hires natives to go with him. These
natives go as guides, beaters, and carriers. The
guides know the trails of the animals. The beaters
surround a bit of wood and make a great noise. The
beasts run out and the hunter fires at them as they
cross the open. The carriers bring in the trophies of
the hunt, and lug the camping outfit.

A hunting expedition is called a safari. Natives in a
safari can carry 60 pounds to the man, and cover 25
miles in one day. They eat two meals a day of a
vegetable paste, called mealies. They do not get meat
often; but when a successful killing is made by the
hunter his natives gorge themselves on the flesh of the

The view shows an American hunter and his safari of
23 men. They are on a journey of 650 miles. They
have covered 250 miles at this point. For 400 miles
the hunter will pay each of them 6 pounds of mealies,
5 yards of muslin, and $1.75.

Some of the natives here seen are carrying heads of
hippopotamuses. Others are carrying the camping
outfit, the extra rifles, and the cameras. In very few
places could this American get so much help at a cost
of $5.00 a day.

Some of the big game hunting is done for sport, some
for profit, and some for scientific purposes. Skins,
hides, tusks, and horns are the products of the hunt.

A computer search of the quarter-million-word revised 1922 edition of the teachers' guide does not find the word "biology" used once, nor is the term "natural history" used--surprising for an educational series made at the tail end of a time often called "The Golden Age of Natural History." "Nature Study" is the catchall heading the teachers' guide uses to cover the collections of slides that have to do with the life sciences. The introductory comments to the section were written by Ernest Thomas Seton, an author of several nature books and the founder of the Boy Scouts. His opening to the Nature Study section includes a run-on sentence linking children's interest in animals with education. He states:
 The animal, being nearer to man has usually
 first claim on the interest of the young
 naturalist; but, strange to tell, I know of
 some men who began by studying birds and
 quadrupeds and later drifted away to trees
 and plants; the reason given being: The latter
 are easier to study; they do not run and
 hide when you wish to be with them, and
 they respond so much better to attempts to
 cultivate and propagate them.

Despite Seton's pontifications, the immediately following Index of Slides lacks any ape or monkey images whatsoever. What the animal section of the 600 Set does index under "Nature Study" includes 34 pictures of horses, 14 of mules and donkeys, and 15 of various types of cattle. Dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, and oxen are also well represented in the collection. The rest of the animal kingdom's diversity is represented by only eight slides. Of these, three are of domesticated elephants, one of an alligator in a zoo, one of a beaver, one of a kangaroo, and two of dead hippopotamuses. One of the hippopotamus pictures is of parading native porters carrying severed hippo heads atop their own (see Figure 5). The mismatch of Ernest Thomas Seton's written introduction to the slide index calls into question whether he had played any meaningful role on the "Committee of Educators" in selecting slides for the 600 series as the sales literature claims. The teachers' guide does list Seton as a member of the 600 Set's editorial board and as one of the specialists who compiled the "Nature Study" section. The introduction to the 1922 edition also states that the subject categories were "edited by 62 leading educators" who "have made a distinct contribution to visual education" (Keystone View Company, 1922).

Apparently B. L. Singley recognized the value of projected images in education but did little to create anything new for education with Keystone's 600 Set of lantern slides for educators. Singley planned to do no more than repackage the company's existing photographic inventory and shoehorn it into a market with deeper pockets than the home-entertainment community.


No section of the 600 Set is more revealing of this strategy than the nature-study division of the set when viewed from a biology educator's perspective. If we compare the slide inventory of the 1906 teachers' guide for nature study with the same section in the 1923 edition, we find it remains unchanged. Both editions list the same domestic-animal picture collection with the same two dead-hippo shots tossed in. No new photographic work has been added to the set to improve its applicability to animal biology education.

* The Decline of Keystone View's Lantern-Slide Era

B. L. Singley retired from the presidency of Keystone View Company in 1936 and died in 1938. Charles Crandall and George Hamilton, two longtime employees of the company, purchased enough stock to assume control of Keystone View. Crandall functioned as president of Keystone until he was discovered dead, slumped across his desk, in 1956. Hamilton assumed the presidency and made his son, Robert C. Hamilton, vice president. According to the Titusville, Pennsylvania Herald, Robert Hamilton was killed in 1961 when he crashed his car into the nearby French Creek. The Meadville Tribune reported that his father, George, died a year later.

Keystone View merged with Mast Development Corporation to become Mast-Keystone in 1963. The financial reason for the merger was obtaining Keystone's eye-training and opthalmological instrument manufacturing resources. The entire photographic section of the company was left behind, stored in the basement of the former Meadville High School building.

According to Leigh Gleason, curator of collections at the University of California Riverside/California Museum of Photography (UCR/CMP), Mast Development Corporation's president and former Keystone View employee Gifford Mast entered into negotiations with UCR/CMP regarding the possible housing and preservation of the 67,000-pound collection should it be donated to the university by the Mast family. Unfortunately for the state of Pennsylvania and the residents of Meadville, negotiations were almost completed by the time the pending deal was made public. As stated in the Meadville Tribune in 1977, Pennsylvania's Governor Raymond Shafer intervened in an attempt to get the collection for Allegheny College--but it was too late. The negatives and prints are now stored at the UCR/CMP as the Keystone-Mast Collection. As grant funds become available, the collection is being digitized and made available online at mainframe/collections/guides/kmast/.

The magic lantern's use in education was pushed into obsolescence by the accurately and richly colored Kodachrome and other slide films during the 1950s. Keystone View never advertised the 600 Set in ABT, but the following personal ad run by a biology educator in the journal's classified section in 1955 signals well the last gasp of the lantern-slide format in education (see Figure 6). The market for lantern slides had finally run its course. B. L. Singley's efforts managed to pump enough life into the medium as an educational projection format to keep Keystone View lantern-slide sales alive for a half century after the home-use market started declining. For this he must be recognized as a successful entrepreneur, even though his sales claims and the ethics of his endorsers for the biological-sciences section must be viewed with a raised eyebrow.
Figure 6. A classified ad in The American Biology Teacher,

TEACHERS--Must dispose of 2300 lantern slides
of Western National Parks. Trees, flowers,
animals, geology, scenery from all the western
parks. 3V4 X 4 black and white slides, many from
negatives by famous nature photographers.
Excellent labeled slides, most of them duplicates
that have never been used. $25 per hundred slides.
Inquiry invited. Harvey E. Stork, Carleton College,
Northfield, Minnesota.

* Keystone View's Second Chance to Aid Biology Education

Even though Keystone View's 600 Set was inadequate for biology instruction, the rest of the company's lantern-slide inventory should not be sold short. The Keystone-Mast collection contains a half century of scenes and events from around the world shot for the home-use and stock photography markets. Keystone also acquired the inventories of competing companies as they went bust, further enlarging their stock. The remaining inventory undoubtedly contains historical images useful to biology educators interested in finding views of things from a century ago. But it will take a patient and educated eye to find them, as few of the pictures are catalogued or titled in any way that would signal possible biological applications of the pictures. As the thousands of photographs and stereoviews now held in the Keystone-Mast collection at UCR are digitized and become available, online historians, anthropologists, art educators, and others are eagerly searching the resource for photographic documentation applicable to their fields. Biology educators need to be among that group.

The digitization process at UCR is moving slowly, but Keystone View Company lantern slides are frequently available on eBay and from antiquities dealers. Although this can be a costly way for educators to acquire the images, there is a benefit of purchase. Under US copyright law, copyright protection expires after 70 years. Educators who own a copy of an image produced before 1929 are free to reproduce and use the image as they choose (see for a concise review of a complicated topic).

Searching online for high-quality historical images of value to one's area of expertise can open new vistas to armchair biologist-explorers. Consider a firsthand example: I just purchased a lantern slide showing a Key West, Florida, dock covered with living green turtles, turned upon their backs, awaiting shipment to New York City's food markets. As I am a teacher of ecology, that slide is now in my file for class display and future projects. The turn-of-the-century dress of the onlookers and workers on the dock establishes the picture's place in history while their look of indifference as the upended turtles struggle in vain will speak a loud message to modern-day students. The lantern slide's century-old frozen moment bears witness to a time when what now is a protected and endangered natural treasure was viewed as just a crop in need of harvest.

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2010.72.9.7


Dukesmith, F.H., Ed. (1904). Building a business by the power of salesmanship: interview with B. L. Singley the president of Keystone View Company. Salesmanship Magazine, 2(1), 17-21.

Hentschel, K. (1999). The culture of visual representations in spectroscopic education and laboratory instruction. Physics in Perspective, 1, 282-327.

Keystone View Company. (1911). Teachers' Guide to Keystone 600 Set. Meadville, PA: Keystone Educational Department.

Keystone View Company. (1922). Teachers' Guide to Keystone 600 Set. Meadville, PA: Keystone Educational Department.

FRANK REISER ( is Professor in the Biology Department of Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY 11530, where he teaches courses in natural history and ecology. His first article for ABT was published in 1970.
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Author:Rieser, Frank
Publication:The American Biology Teacher
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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