A Brief History of the Projector

At Ethos3, we eat, breathe, and live presentations. We also acknowledge that our unusual lifestyles would never have existed without the projector: The Mother of All Presentations. Let’s pay our respects by learning a bit more about the projector’s (frankly very weird) origins:

An Ancient History

Projecting images onto a larger surface is an old trick; the first known instance of this was recorded in a drawing by Johannes de Fontana in 1420. In which, a nun holds a lantern with a small translucent window that projects an image of a devil. Leonardo da Vinci also drew a similar device, later known as a magic lantern, in 1515.

But who invented the actual, official magic lantern? And when? To find out the truth, you will need a time machine and a boxing ring to let all of these potential inventors fight it out:

Pierre Fournier – 1515, France

Giovanni Battista della Porta – 1589, Italy

Athansius Kircher – 1646, Germany

Christiaan Huygens – 1659, Holland

Thomas Rasmusser Walgenstein – 1660, Denmark

Claude Millet – 1674, France

These early projectors were often used for devious purposes, nicknamed “lantern of fright” because they were adopted by magicians to “summon ghosts” or appear in two places at once. Not exactly the stuffy tools of boardrooms we use today.

Getting Civilized

In the late 1800s, magic lanterns using oil lamps began to be adopted by photographers, lecturers, and the general public rather than the spooky magician crowd.  They were also wisely renamed “opaque projectors.” As time progressed, incandescent light bulbs with halogen lamps took the place of outdated light sources. These opaque projectors (as we know) were great teaching tools. For example, Chicago’s public school system had around 8,000 opaque projectors by the end of World War I.

Overhead projectors eventually replaced the opaque projector. In World War II, soldiers were trained from presentations using a version of an overhead projector. Through the 50s and 60s, schools, businesses, and even police departments relied on overhead projectors to share information.

Our Fancy Future

Overhead projectors evolved into multimedia projectors when digital images took over in the 20th century. On May 22nd, 1990, Microsoft launched a slide-based presentation computer program. We know it today as our beloved PowerPoint, though it was originally called “Presenter” by developer Dennis Austin.

The goal of PowerPoint was to have a number of pages or “slides” that could represent the transparencies used in an overhead projector. It was more efficient than other forms of visual aid such as whiteboards or chalkboards, and served many kinds of audiences and presentation needs. The projector game had changed forever, signaling the end of overhead projectors and physical slide sheets.

Today you can buy portable, wireless, and digital projectors for less than you might spend on a good pair of jeans. However, we still tip our hats to the projectors of yesteryear, and all the ingenuity it took to create them.

Question: When was the last time you used an overhead projector?

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