What is a Glass Lantern Slide?

Democracy of Beauty Exhibit Images

Left: Before coloring, glass lantern slides appeared as black and white images, like this one of the Goodwin Garden in Hartford, CT, c. 1930. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Company Collection.  

Right: The Goodwin Garden, after the colorist’s work. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Company Collection

Before PowerPoint and Pinterest, there were glass lantern slides. Invented in 1849, lantern slides allowed photographs to be projected onto screens or walls. For the first time, large audiences could view images together. 

Glass lantern slides were created by using a photographic negative to print an image on a piece of glass coated with a light-sensitive solution, rather than light-sensitive paper.  After the printing, color was often added to create more vivid images by someone known as a colorist. The finished product was placed in a lantern projector, first using oil lamps, and eventually electric light.