1890

Esther Bang
Feb 17, 2017 · 3 min read

August Fuhrmann’s Kaiserpanorama

The Kaiserpanorama

In 1787, the artist Robert Barker invented the panoramic painting technique, which liberated the public to visual experiences of faraway places and fantastic events, only to be heightened with the invention of photography in the 1860s. Eventually, by the end of the 1800s, the painted panoramas were being replaced by the Kaiserpanorama, a type of stereoscopic device for the public display of stereo photographs.

(Figure 1: Plan and cross section of the Kaiserpanorama, from Fuhrmann’s 1890 application for a British patent of the kaiserpanorama.(1))

The Kaiserpanorama was created by the physicist August Fuhrmann (1844–1925) and patented by Fuhrmann in 1890. Fuhrmann has described his inventions:

“But modern man finds his natural endowments insufficient on many fronts…Since our eyes can take in a momentary impression but not hold it fast, we have invented the photographic plate. And for viewing photographs we now have an artificial retina to place before our eyes that increases their power: the stereoscope.” (2)

(Figure 2 The Kaiserpanorama (3))

The Kaiserpanorama apparatus can seat about 25 viewers around its 15 feet diameter wooden cylinder, mounted with a Holmes style stereoscope viewport to allow seated viewers to peer through. A viewer would look through a pair of prismatic lenses at a collection of 50 tinted stereoscopic glass slides, illuminated from behind by a special lamp facing each viewport. Each slide remained in view for only a few minutes; when a bell rang to wake the viewer from their visual experience and the slide moved jerkily along to the next position, as the machinery whirred and shook. The collection of slides consisted of images of exotic locations and recent trending events. Walter Benjamin wrote in his memoir Berlin Childhood around 1900:

“One great charm of the shows at the Kaiser Panorama was that it made no difference where in the series you started. Because the display went around in a circle, every picture would come around past the stop where you sat and peered through two little windows into its pale, tinted vistas.” (2)

Fuhrmann opened his first stereopticon show in Breslau in 1880, and by 1883 he established his first commercial Kaiserpanorama in the prime location of Kaiser-Passage arcade in Berlin. This location was also the establishment of the “Kaiser-Panorama Institute,” where Fuhrmann stored his central archive of glass slides. The Berlin Kaiserpanorama operated for 56 years, showing 2 collections of 50 slides, switched twice weekly.

(Figure 3: List of locations of Kaiserpanorama(4))

(Figure 4: Collection of slides (4))

The popularity of the Kaiserpanorama reached its peak around 1910 with over 250 Kaiserpanoramas in operation throughout Germany, Austria and Europe. As it reached its climax in popularity, the Kaiserpanorama was simultaneously being over taken by illustrated magazines and newspapers, capable of presenting up-to-date visual information to the public. Thus, in 1939, the Berliner Lokalanzeiger ran an article, “THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES ON EARTH: BEHIND PEEP HOLES” announcing the closure of the Berlin Kaiserpanorama.

The history of 19th century visual entertainment can be described as a hybrid machine of a peep show form and a pictorial panorama of nature, the Kaiserpanorama marked a turning point in history of visual experience, from the liberation of the eye to the hegemonic of optics.

References:

  1. Crary, Jonathan. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. Print.
  2. Oettermann, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone, 1997. Print.
  3. “The Kaiser-Panorama.” Kaiserpanorama. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
  4. Unknown. Cycle 720 Interesting Journey from Burgos to Tarragona and Saragossa. http://www.aiq.talktalk.net/3D/kaiserpanorama%20trips.htm. Accessed Feb 2017.