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Kaleidoscopes, a brief history 

What better way to brighten up the day than with a look at kaleidoscopes! These amazing optical instruments show a myriad of beautiful colours and patterns which are pleasing to the eye and mind. Let's delve into the kaleidosphere! 

Colourful picture of a kaleidoscope image

What is a kaleidoscope?

  • It is an optical device consisting of mirrors that reflect images of bits of coloured glass in a symmetrical geometric design through a viewer. 
  • Kaleidoscopes can be changed endlessly by rotating the section containing the loose fragments, so you’ll never be bored! 
  • The name kaleidoscope comes from three Greek words ‘kalos’ meaning beautiful, ‘eidos’ meaning form and ‘scopos’ meaning watcher. 

But where did it come from?

  • #DYK that the kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster? We’re not surprised, all the best inventions have been made by the Scots! 

Sir David Brewster

  • David Brewster wrote two books about kaleidoscopes but never made much money from it. While his invention became popular, selling over 200,000 scopes, improper patent wording allowed others to capitalise on it. 
  • For his scientific discoveries David Brewster was knighted in 1831. 
  • The first kaleidoscope was a tube containing pieces of loose coloured glass and other small objects. These were reflected by mirrors or lenses set at angles which created patterns when viewed through the end of the tube. 
  • In the 1870s, Charles Bush, an American, revitalised the kaleidoscope and became the first person to mass market the kaleidoscope. 
  • The kaleidoscopes popularity peaked during the Victorian era when all elegant homes had a parlour scope for family entertainment. This all changed with the electronic age! 
  • By the mid-1900s, kaleidoscopes had become mostly children’s toys, however there was a resurgence on the horizon! 
  • They started gaining in popularity again in the late 1970s, due to craftmanship and technological advances. 
  • The ‘Kaleidoscope Renaissance’ was assisted by the work of one woman, Cozy Baker. Cozy wrote six books about kaleidoscopes and curated the world’s first kaleidoscope exhibition. 

Cozy Baker


Kaleidoscopes at Camera Obscura

  • We’ve several versions of kaleidoscopes at Camera Obscura. The first is our Giant Kaleidosphere, which uses mirrors, lights and coloured patters to created continually changing and engaging patterns and shapes. 


  • Our Kaleido-Draw on the 4th floor lets you control the fun to create your own unique, symmetrical patterns. 
  • Make sure to look through the Fibre Optic Kaleidoscope on the 5th floor. This triangular shaped kaleidoscope is unusual as uses a fibre optic light source with a rotating coloured disc to form the changing colours and patterns.

Kaleidoscopes at home

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