Stereographic photographs “were the first genre of visual mass media to appear in American society.” They pre-date the advent of the comic strip, which is often touted as the first genre. (according to Dr. Charles Shull).
The popularity of the stereographs are evident, as at the height of their popularity, HALF of all households in America eventually owned them. They began as toys of the rich, and they also served an educational purpose of teaching geography and history, as well as furnishing home entertainment that expanded the world of the viewer, and inspired several generations of scientists, travelers, and geographers.
So why haven’t you heard of them? Perhaps because you were born 50 to 150 years too late.
What is a “stereograph“?
The stereograph, sterescopic view, or stereo view were all terms used to describe a double set of paper photograph prints mounted on card stock, that were viewed through a device called a stereoscope, to produce a three dimensional image. A standard stereograph consisted of a stiff card about 7 to 7-1/2 inches wide and 3-1/2 to 5 inches tall. The images were either mounted on the card, or printed directly on it.
The two photographs were made simultaneously with a camera with two lenses, the centers of which were 2-1/2 inches apart–the same distance between the center’s of a human’s eyes. Thus, each image is what one eye would see. Therefore when looking at the images through a “stereograph,” the image appears three-dimensional, and life-sized (i.e. the brain interprets the binocular view, transforming it into a single 3D perception). It is believed to have been invented by the Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster, in 1849, who used and improved the Wheatstone stereoscope principle, inventing an appliance to view three-dimensional stereograms.
In 1861 Oliver Wendell Holmes, (physicist, poet and writer, 1809-1894) built his version of the steroscope viewer, which became the standard, and was cheap to produce. He did not patent his invention.
These “views” were popular entertainment in Europe in the mid-1800s, and through mass production methods became widely distributed in the United States by the 1880s. The closest that we come in our modern day to this device, might be the 1930s “View- Master.”
New Hampshire’s Role:
In 1868, my 7th cousins, 3 times removed (no kidding!) the Kilburn brothers (Edward and Benjamin West) started the manufacture of stereoscopic views, in Littleton, New Hampshire, on a small scale. [Benjamin took the photographs and Edward developed them]. The business grew quickly, and as B.W. Kilborn & Co in 1876 was carried it on extensively in a three-story building on Cottage Street, on the south side of the river. At that time he employed sixteen people, mostly women. Working manually, a person could turn out 60 pictures in a day, and when the Kilburn Company mechanized the process in 1860, its 52 employees could turn out 3,000 stereographs a day. The business at its peak was known to create 600,000 views. Their views became the most widely distributed in the United States.
What kind of views?
Soon after the close of the Civil War, Benjamin Kilburn had started increasing his incredible collection of stereoscopic negatives. The first views were made of his local surroundings and our beautiful White Mountain region of New Hampshire. Later he visited other scenic spots in the United States, and even later the important scenes of culture and history in Europe, and the rest of the world. He converted his photographs into high quality stereoscopic views. Meanwhile his brother, Edward Kilburn, looked after the manufacturing side, creating stereographs from these negatives. Benjamin Kilburn played a leading role in the widespread popularity of the stereograph. After B.W. Kilburn’s death in 1909, the entire set of Kilburn negatives was acquired by the Keystone View Co.
Popularity and Disfavor:
Stereographs reached their peak of popular distribution in the years 1902-1935 through the business efforts of such companies as the Keystone View Company and Underwood & Underwood. The interest in stereoscopic views died out with the advent of photography being used in newspapers, and the creation of the portable camera, and motion pictures.
So where are they now?
Most of the surviving stereoscopic pictures can be found in museums, including the National Archives. A good deal of the Kilburn collection was purchased by the Keystone View Company of Meadville, Pennsylvania. In 1977, Mead Kibbey, a businessman from Sacramento, California, successfully negotiated the donation of the Keystone View Company’s archive. After thirty-eight years of nearly idle storage, the collection was donated intact to UCR/CMP by family members of the late Gifford Mast of Davenport, Iowa. In a tribute to the Mast Family, the collection is subsequently known as the Keystone-Mast Collection. The Keystone-Mast Collection is the remaining archive of the Keystone View Company of Meadville, Pennsylvania. UCR/California Museum of Photography is creating broad access to its Keystone-Mast Collection, the world’s largest amalgam of stereographic photography. [SEARCH the MOAC collection][Editor’s note December 2018, it appears that this database is now restricted and not open to the general public].
Similar to the stereoscopic viewers, “ViewMaster” viewers, were popular in the first several years after World War II (with round disks for seven 3D-pairs each). More than one billion of them were sold since 1939. The copyright to the View-Master is now owned by Fisher-Price, who continues to create new disk topics.
A New Hampshire Historical Marker #71 is located on the lawn of the old factory where the stereographic photographs were produced, at the intersection of Kilburn Street and Cottage Street (US 302), south of the river, in downtown Littleton.
-Tuck Library, NH Historical Society, partial online collection of stereoscopic views–
–George Eastman House: Stereo View Collection Online-
– Tasmanian Photography: a Kilburn Stereograph of Tasmanian Ferns–
Thomas Kilbourne was b. 8 May 1578 in Wood Ditton, Cambridge, England and d. bef Dec 1640 in Wethersfield CT. He married 6 Sep 1604 in Moulton, Co. Suffolk England, to Frances Moody, dau of George & Margaret Moody. She was b. 11 Oct 1584 in Moulton, Co. Suffolk England and d. abt 1650 in Wethersfield CT. “He was only 13 when his father died, so he was brought up by his step-father Walter Howlett, who married his mother the following year. He appears on the Subsidy Roll of 7 James 1 (1610), taxed 10s on £6 of goods. In 1618, he paid the parish of Wood Ditton a rent of 14s. In the Subsidy of 18 James 1 (1620), he paid 6s in taxes on £6 of goods. He is also listed paying taxes in 1624, 1625, 1628, and 1629, all on £4-6 of goods. In his step-father’s will probated in February 1632, he was bequeathed 30s. In 1613, will of Agatha Borrowdale named him (and several other men) a trustee of a fund to benefit the poor of Newmarket and Bury, and left him a “ring of gold of the price of 30s” for the trouble. He was listed as a “Church Warden” of the Church of England in 1632. He left London on the Increase on 15 Apr 1635. He is listed on the passenger list as Husbandman Tho. Kilborne, aged 55, with wife Frances (50), and children Margaret (23), Lydia (22), Marie (16), Frances (12) and Jo. (10).Thomas died shortly after his arrival in Wethersfield, and it is supposed he was killed in the Indian massacre at Wethersfield in 1637. His estate was not listed in the early settlements recorded in 1639-40, though that of Abraham Finch, known to have been a victim, was listed in Sept 1640. The will of “ffrancis Kilbourne” of Wethersfield, dated 13 Nov 1650, gave a gown to her daughter Margit wife of Richard Lawe, and five shillings to her grandson, Jonathan Lawe; L5 to Richard Law in lieu of the forty shillings she had borrow of him; to daughter Lidia, wife of Robert Howard, L5, to daughter Meary wife of John Root, L5; to daughter ffrances wife of Thomas Uffoote, L10; to grandchild, Elizabeth Geneson, a gown, petticoat and hat; balance of her apparel to be divided between Lidia, Mary and ffrancis; to son John, three shirts, and the rest of the linen to the three daughters. The inventory, taken 3 Dec 1650, totaled L349:08:04.
Children of Thomas & Frances (Moody) Kilbourne:
1. Anne Kilbourne, b. abt 1605
2. Margaret Kilbourne, bap 23 Sep 1607; m. Richard Law
3. Thomas Kilbourne, bap 30 Nov 1609
4. George Kilbourne, bap 12 Feb 1612; m. Elizabeth Barker (MY ANCESTOR)
5. Elizabeth Kilbourne, b abt 1614
6. Lydia Kilbourne, bap 14 July 1616; m. Robert Howard
7. Mary Kilbourne, b abt 1919; m. John Root; ancestor of Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes
8. Frances Kilbourne, born 4 Sep 1621; m. Thomas Ufford
9. +Sgt. John Kilbourne, bap 29 Sep 1624
Sgt. John Kilbourne, b. 29 Sep 1624 in Wood Ditton England, son of Thomas & Frances (Moody) Kilbourne, d. 9 Apr 1703. He married 1st about 1650 to Naomi –. She d. 1 Oct 1659. He married 2nd, by 1663 to Sarah Bronson. She d. 4 Dec 1711.
Children of Sgt. John & Naomi (?) Kilbourne:
1. +John Kilbourne, b. 15 Feb 1650 Wethersfield CT
2. Thomas Kilbourne, b. 1653 Wethersfield CT
3. Ebenezer Kilbourne, b. 1655 Wethersfield CT
4. Naomi Kilbourne, b. 1656 Wethersfield CT; m. Thomas Hale
Children of Sgt. John & Sarah (Bronson) Kilbourne:
5. Sarah Kilbourne, b. 1663 Wethersfield CT; m. Joseph Crane
6. George Kilbourne, b. 1668 Wethersfield CT; m. Abigail Atwood
7. Mary Kilbourne, b. 1670 Wethersfield CT; m. Samuel Butler
8. Joseph Kilbourne, b. 1672 Wethersfield CT; m1) Dorothy Butler; m2) Esther Gibbs
9. Abraham Kilbourne, b. 1675 Wethersfield CT: m. Sarah Goodrich
John Kilbourne, son of Sgt. John & Naomi Kilbourne, was b. 15 Feb 1650/51 in Wethersfield, Hartford Co CT and d. 25 Nov 1711 in Naubuck (now Glastonbury) CT. He married 1st) 4 March 1673/74 in CT to Susannah Hills, dau of William Hills. She was b. 4 Feb 1674 and d. Oct 1701 in Glastenbury CT. He married 2d) 12 May 1702 in Hartford CT to Elizabeth Mitchell. He was admitted a freeman 13 Oct 1681. He was a fence viewer for the east side of the great river in 1697, 1702 and 1705, a lister in 1710. He was one of the grand jurors of Hartford Co in 1695 and 1703 and other times. He was probably a “Puritan.”
Children of John & Susannah (Hills) Kilbourne:
1. Susannah Kilbourne, b. 4 Feb 1674
2. +John Kilbourne, b. 30 Oct 1676/67 in Glastonbury CT
3. Ebenezer Kilbourne, b 11 March 1678; m1) Sarah Fox; m2) Elizabeth Davis
4. Jonathan Kilbourne, b. 7 Sep 1681
5. Benjamin Kilbourne, b. 30 March 1684
6. David Kilbourne, b. 25 Feb 1687
7. Abraham Kilbourne, b. 25 Feb 1690
John Kilburn, son of John & Susannah (Hills) Kilburn, was b. 30 Oct 1676/67 in Glastonbury CT. He died bef 5 Sep 1738 in Springfield MA. He married 1st) 25 Jan 1698/99 to Sarah Kimberly. She was b. abt 1678 in Wethersfield CT, and d 25 Dec 1713. He married 2d) Sep 1720 to Mercy Day. He was chosen a surveyor of Glastenbury in 1710. After his wife Sarah’s death he removed to Springfield MA.
Children of John & Sarah (Kimberley) Kilburn:
1. Samuel Kilburn, b. 13 Feb 1700
2. +John Kilburn, b. abt 1704 in Guilford CT
3. Sarah Kilburn, b. 1706
4. Benjamin Kilburn, b. 10 June 1712
Children of John & Mercy (Day) Kilburn:
5. Rachel Kilburn, b. 8 July 1721
6. David Kilburn, b. 3 March 1723
7. Mercy Kilburn, b. 14 Nov 1725
8. Mary Kilburn, b Springfield MA
9. Ruth Kilburn, b. Glastenbury CT
John Kilburn, son of John & Sarah (Kimberly) Kilburn, was b. in 1704 in Guilford CT; d. 8 Apr 1789 in Walpole NH. He married 1st) 26 Oct 1732 to Mehitable Bacon. She died about 1737. He married 2nd) abt 1737 to Hannah Fox. She b. Glastenbury CT and died 1 Jan 1807 in Walpole NH. In his youth he went to Hartford CT and learned the tanning and currying business. He then moved to Northfield MA until 1749 when he settled in Walpole NH, being one of the first settlers. After the French and Indian War, he went to Springfield VT, but returned to Walpole and died there. “The Heroes of Walpole” states: “The first civilized inhabitant of the present town of Walpole, NH was John Kilburn, who settled there in 1749. The large and fertile meadows at the mouth of Cold River, in that township, slightly covered with tall butter-nut and ancient elm trees, presented an inviting prospect to new colonists, and an easy harvesy to the hand of cultivation. Just above them, along the easy bank of the Conneticut, was the defile, bounded by steep mountains, which formed the Indian highway to and from Charleston, the next township. There, too, was the head of shad navigation, the great fishing ground of the savages from time immemorial. Next below this narrow pass, by the river, and nearer the meadows, is the site of an ancient Indian village, now occupied by a tavern. Next on the south, and bounding the meadows northerly, was Cold River, a small branch of the main stream, overshadowed with tall maples and elms. The meadows themselves were about half a mile in extent; the Conneticut on their western side, and a smei-circle of woods on the east, with a central round eminence, forty feet high, from which issues at this day a medical spring. It was here that the adventurous and hardy Kilburn built himself a log hut, and here he inhabited the solitude of the forest for two years, without any intercourse with friend or foe.
Children of John & Mehitable (Bacon) Kilburn:
1. Mary Kilburn, b. 12 Nov 1733 in Middletown CT
2. Mehitable “Hitty” Kilburn, b. 16 Feb 1734 in Middletown CT
3. +John Kilburn, b. 1 Apr 1736 in Middletown CT
John Kilburn, son of John & Mehitable (Bacon) Kilburn, was b. 1 Apr 1736 in Middletown CT, and d. 20 July 1819 in Shrewsbury VT; revolutionary soldier; he married 10 March 1762 to Content Carpenter, dau of Rev. Ezra Carpenter of Swanzey NH. She was b. abt 1735. They resided at Walpole NH until the winter of 1793, when they removed to Shrewsbury VT, where he died at the age of 83. He was selectman of Walpole NH in 1755, 1756 and 1857, and was justice of the peace. They may have had other children who did not live to an adult age.
Child(ren): of John & Content (Carpenter) Kilburn:
1. John Kilbourn, b. 1765 in Walpole NH; m. Anna Ashley and had ch.
2. Ezra Carpenter Kilbourn, b. 1766
3 . Theodosia Kilbourn, b. 1770
4. +Elijah Kilburn, b. 30 Sep 1772 in Walpole NH
5. Elizabeth Kilbourn, b. 1772
6. Esther Kilbourn, b. 1774
Elijah Kilburn, son of John & Content (Carpenter) Kilburn, was b. 30 Sep 1772 in Walpole NH and d. abt 1847 in Walpole NH. He married abt 1798 to Rebecca Jennison, dau of John & Kezia (Spring) Jennison. She was b. 13 Aug 1774 and d. 1849.
Children of Elijah & Rebecca (Jennison) Kilburn:
1. +Josiah Kilburn, b. 2 Jan 1801 in Walpole NH
2. Frederick Kilburn, b. 4 Apr 1809 in Walpole NH; carpenter and farmer; m. Mary Ann Watkins.
Josiah Kilburn, son of Elijah & Rebecca (Jennison) Kilburn, was b. 2 Jan 1801 in Walpole NH and d. 15 Apr 1888. He married Lydia A. Wilder, dau of John Wilder. She was b. 13 Feb 1801 in Bethlehem NH. After Lydia’s death, he married 2d) 1 March 1827 to Emily Bonney, dau of Peter Bonney. She b. 30 May 1801 in Littleton NH. He was a machinist and foundryman.
Children of Josiah & Emily (Bonney) Kilburn:
1. +Benjamin West Kilburn, b. 10 Dec 1827 in Littleton NH
2. +Edward Kilburn, b. 27 Feb 1830 in Littleton NH
3. Emily Kilburn, b. 17 Oct 1833; m. James Dow
Benjamin West Kilburn, son of Josiah and Emily (Bonney) Kilburn, was born 10 Dec 1827 in Littleton NH and died in 1909. He married 16 Nov 1853 to Caroline Burnham. She was b. 1 Nov 1829 in Bethlehem NH, daughter of Joseph Burnham. He was a Civil War veteran, Co. D, 13th Regiment NH Infantry. He enlisted as a Corporal on 13 August 1862 at the age of 34, on 19 September 1862, and was promoted to Full Sergeant on 06 January 1863. He was discharged, funishing a substitute on 19 February 1863. The 1850 census shows his original occupation was working in an iron foundry, as did his father. He appears to have amassed a sizable amount of cash, and by 1880 indicates his profession by his stereoscopic view company. [See photograph of Benjamin West Kilburn near the top of the article]
1850 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Grafton > Littleton
Josiah Kilburn 49 M Iron Founder 1000 NH
Emily Kilburn 44 F NH
Benj Kilburn 22 M Iron Founder NH
Edward Kilburn 20 M Iron Founder NH
Emily B. Kilburn 16 F NH
Seraphina Kellogg 17 F VT
Josiah M. Ladd 21 M Blacksmith NH
1860 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Grafton > Littleton
Benjamin W. Kilburn 33 M Iron Founder 3150/2700 NH
Caroline L. Kilburn 31 F House Wife NH
Elisabeth M. Kilburn 5 F NH
–living next door–
Josiah Kilburn 59 M Iron Founder 8150/2700 NH
Emily Kilburn 59 F NH
Adaline Gale 21 F Hired Girl NH
1870 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Grafton > Littleton
Kilburn, Josiah 69 M W Foundryman 6000/5000 NH
Kilburn, Lydia, 49 F W Keeping House NH
Walker, Emily, 21 F W Domestic Servant NH
–living next door—
Kilburn, Benj W 42 M W Foundryman 8000/6000 NH
Kilburn, Cami 40 F W Keeping House NH
Kilburn, Lizzie M 15 F W attending school NH
Richardson, Lydia 53 F W Domestic servant Maine
–living a few doors away—
Kilburn, Edmond 40 M W Photographer 5000/6000 NH
Kilburn, Adaline 40 F W Keeping House Vermont
Kilburn, E. Addie 9 F W Attending School NH
Owen, Amelia 72 F W without occupation, NH
Pollock, Hattie P. 35 F W Music Teacher, MA
U.S. Census > 1880 United States Federal Census > New Hampshire > Grafton > Littleton > District 95
Kilburn, Josiah W F 79 Iron Founder NH NH VT
Kilburn, Lydia A W F 59 wife keeping house NH NH NH
–living next door–
Kilburn, Benjamin W. W M 52 Kuburn Stereoscopic Views NH NH NH
Kilburn, Caroline C. W F 41 wife keeps house NH NH NH
Jackson, William Jr. W M 34 son-in-law Stereoscope NH Ire Vt
Jackson, Lizzie M., W F 25 dau at home NH NH NH
Children of Benjamin W. & Caroline (Burnham) Kilburn:
1. Elizabeth Maria “Lizzie” Kilburn, b. 14 Sep 1854 in New Hampshire, and died 17 December 1915 in Mineral Springs, Moore Co., NC. She married by 1880 to William Jackson Jr. He was b. 14 Feb 1842 in Barnet VT, son of William & Prusia (Morrell) Jackson. He was a clerk in the stereoscopic view shop, who died 30 December 1884 in Littleton NH. She married 2d, 18 May 1886 in Littleton, Grafton County, New Hampshire to Daniel Clark Remick, son of Samuel K. & Sophia (Cushman) Remick. Daniel C. Remick [tombstone says Remich] partner in Aldrich & Remick, Littleton NH. He was born 15 January 1852 in Hardwick VT, and died 28 January 1917 in Littleton NH. Who’s who in New England: A Biographical Diction of leading Living Men, 1915, ed. by Albert N. Marquis shows: “REMICK, Daniel C., lawyer; b. Hardwick Vt., Jan 15, 1852; s. Samuel K. and Sophia (Cushman) Remich; common sch. edn; studied law in Law Sch., Mich. U; admitted to bar 1878; m. Littleton, N.H. May 18, 1896 Elizabeth Kilburn. Practiced Littleton 1878-95; mem. firm of B.W. Kilburn & Co., stereopticon views. Judge advocate-gen. on staff of Gov. John McLane; mem. N.H. Legislature 3 terms; Senate 1 term; del-at-large, Rep. Natl Conv. 1904; del. Prog. Nat. Conv. Chicago 1921. Conglist. Mem. Soc. Mayflower Descendants, Soc. Colonial Wars., S.R. Recreations: travel, motoring, forestry. Address: Littleton NH.” In 1900 Lizzie and her 2nd husband Daniel were living in Littleton NH in the same household as her parents. They were buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Littleton NH. She appears to not have any children, and none are listed in the 1900 census.
Edward Kilburn, son of Josiah & Emily (Bonney) Kilburn, was born 27 Feb 1830 in Littleton NH and died 25 Feb 1884 in Littleton NH. He married 25 May 1857 to Adaline S. Owen, dau of Marcus Owen. She b. 28 Jan 1831 in St. Johnsbury VT, and d. 13 Dec 1880 in Littleton NH. He was a photographer, and later a manager of the Kilburn Stereoscopic view company until his retirement in the 1870s. They are buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Littleton NH.
Child of Edward & Adaline S. (Owen) Kilburn:
1. Emily Adaline Kilburn, aka Addie K. Kilburn, b. 4 Oct 1860 in Littleton NH; m. 24 December 1879 in Littleton NH to Benjamin Frank Robinson, son of Benjamin J. & Sarah (Prescott) Robinson. They had two sons, Edward Kilburn Robinson, b. 16 April 1883 in Littleton NH, d. 1971 who m. Hope Dunlap and had a child, Hope Elizabeth Robinson, b. 24 Oct 1913 in Belmont MA; and Frank O. Robinson, b. 6 December 1886 in Littleton NH, d. 1946.