Reflective symmetry has been observed since ancient times. Legend claims that early Egyptians would place two or three slabs of highly polished limestone together at different angles and watch with fascination as mandalas were formed by human dancers. It was not until centuries later, however, that this optical phenomenon was encased in one small tube and given a name.
     The kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by Sir David Brewster of Scotland. While he was experimenting with prisms and other optical tools, he discovered that beautiful symmetrical patterns were made when loose pieces of glass and other objects were reflected by mirrors and/or lenses in a tube-like instrument. The
symmetrical patterns could vary when the mirrors were set at different angles or when different numbers of mirrors were used. Brewster’s term for the new instrument he invented was named ‘Kaleidoscope’ which means ‘beautiful-form-to see’ in Greek.
      While Brewster was granted a patent for his kaleidoscope, as well as acknowledgment and acclaim for his invention, he did not realize any remuneration. Others did, however. There was some fault with the patent registration, and before Brewster could claim any financial rewards, kaleidoscopes were quickly manufactured by aggressive entrepreneurs who sold hundreds of thousands with great financial success for themselves.
       It was in the early 1870s that Charles Bush began developing kaleidoscopes starting the fad in America. Bush manufactured his parlor kaleidoscopes by the thousands and they were recognized as extraordinary even then. These instruments had a barrel of black hardboard with a spoked brass wheel rotating an object cell, mounted on a turned wooden stand. (right)
     Most noteworthy about the Bush kaleidoscopes were the glass pieces contained in the object case. Bush had a basic mix of about 35 pieces, a third of which were liquid filled. Inside the liquids were air bubbles that continued to move even after the object case was at rest. Both the solid and liquid-filled glass pieces were of brilliant and well-chosen colors, and the patterns they formed were the finest of any 19th century kaleidoscope.

       Bush secured several patents in 1873 and 1874; the first for a new and useful object for the object box - hermetically sealed liquid-filled ampules; the second for a means to add and subtract pieces from the object case without having to disassemble it; one for the use of a color wheel as a backdrop for the images; and another for a four-legged wooden stand that could be disassembled for easier carrying and shipping.

       It is hard to believe that this handsome instrument originally sold for a mere $2.00. Today, if one can be found, it might go for as high as $2,000.
The History of Kaleidoscopes
Types of Kaleidoscopes
Interesting trivia
Kaleidoscope images
Mirror Systems
Making a Kaleidoscope