These 100-Year-Old Photos Have Been Brought To Life in 3D

Time travelling GIFs.

New York Public Library (NYPL) have brought vintage photos to life by using the power of GIFs to make pictures from the 1800s appear to be in 3D.

Using stereoscopic photography, our ancestors enjoyed 3D images long before they came to our cinema screens. To make it happen they would take two photos of a scene, both at slightly different angles to each other. One image was intended for the left eye and one for the right. When these photos were looked at through a stereoscope viewing device, the images were blended together and created the illusion of depth of field, making the photo leap out.

Credit: Library of Congress

Photos like this were popular in the mid-1800s and early 1900s as a public attraction and in people’s homes. NYPL Labs, a team that work to reformat the Library’s knowledge for the Internet age, recreated this effect by alternating between the left and the right image in a GIF.

Samuel John Dixon crossing Niagara below the Great Cantilever Bridge, USA, circa 1895.

The project is the dreamchild of NYPL Labs’ Joshua Heineman, which he describes as “a 21st century raid of the New York Public Library’s archive of 19th century treasure”.

On the project’s site, Heineman describes how he discovered the effect: “One evening in my final year of college, I was downloading digital snapshots to my laptop when I got a fleeting sense of 3D as the preview screen flicked quickly between two similar shots.

“I located the individual photos & flipped back & forth between them continually. The parallax effect of minor changes between the two perspectives created a sustained sense of dimension that approximated the effect of stereo viewing.”


The NYPL have over 40,000 stereoscope photos in their archive, most of which are over 100-years-old. Some of the photos’ dates and captions have been lost in time. The library have even created a way for you to search their archive and create your own 3D GIFs on their site, called a Stereogranimator.

Some GIFs work better than others – here are a few of the best that we found:

Abraham Lincoln, date unknown.

A postcard from New York, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, 1896.

Statue of Civilization, undated

Postcard, “Last in bed blows out the light”, 1896


“Study, 1918.”

“Looking northwest from corner Ellis and Powell Streets, San Francisco, 1906.” [Following an earthquake]

“Bicycle race, the finish line, circa 1890.”

“Office of Secretary of State, circa 1860.”

“Acrobats far from their mountain home – grizzly bears in a street at Jacksonville, Florida, 1905.”

 “Famous trotting ostrich ‘Oliver, W.’, harnessed for a spin, Jacksonville, Florida,  circa 1905.”

“Snow cave, Rocky Mountains, Wasatch Range, winter 1897.”

“Group of musicians, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, circa 1868.”

“Picking cotton with Chinese labor on irrigated land at the foot of the Andes, Vitarte, Peru, circa 1900.”

“Great Sphinx of Gizeh, the largest royal portrait ever made, Egypt, circa 1900.”

“The sleeping faun, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, circa 1859.”

“A hunter, circa 1870.”

“Mother and child sitting in a park, October 1917.”

“Portrait of Indian man and woman, circa 1865.”

“A Straight Flush and Cards to Spare, 1901.”

“Au Sable Chasm [New York], Jacob’s Well, looking out. circa 1870.”

“Wawona, as we drove through it, Mariposa Grove, California, circa 1867.”

“Buffalo Indian chief, circa 1865.”

“Portrait of a bearded man, circa 1860.”

“Cat sitting in a field, circa 1918.”

” ‘I helped to build Pike’s Peak railroad myself,’ Colorado, U.S.A. circa 1894.”

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