The Ancient Version Of Netflix Was Magic Lanterns

Samuel Reason | September 8th, 2018

During the Victorian era, of course, Netflix did not exist but people living during the 1800s still needed a way to chill. With no television or internet available, a different device was created allowing people to binge watch and relax: it was called the Magic Lantern.

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Essentially they could be seen as the earliest form of a projector, they were very common and accessible to quite a lot of people. They were slide projectors, and could even show images in 3D or moving; allowing the Magic Lantern to captivate their audience and make people laugh. Historians originally believed only the wealthy could afford these projectors, but newly found documents suggest even middle-class families could access them. This is because the devices were regularly rented out.

When special events came about like birthday parties, holidays or other major social events then people liked to splurge and rend a magic lantern to entertain their guests. John Plunkett a professor at the University of Exeter, made the discovery by carefully going through thousands of newspapers from the time. He discovered a whole section of ads related to renting magic lanterns, which suggested that people did hire projector operators and rented slideshows. You could say it was the earliest form of blockbuster or any other DVD rental company.

And this actually did happen, the Magic Lanterns were so popular that churches and town halls quickly started to offer a catalog of slideshows that could be rented out. Some would be adapted illustrations of Charles Dicken’s novels or some may be photos showing faraway lands in Egypt.

The devices were not easily handled though, there are many reports of them causing explosions or fires, which is why many families opted to rent an operator also to set up the Magic Lantern safely in their homes. As technology moved forward and moving pictures of the 1920s appeared, Magic Lanterns were quickly forgotten.

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