The Myriopticon (Realia): Historical Panorama: The Rebellion

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The Myriopticon (Realia): Historical Panorama: The Rebellion
(not after 1890)
Unknown Artist
Milton Bradley and Co.
Toy Theater
14 x 21 x 6 cm
Vault Case Oversize E468.7 .M96
Newberry Library

Would you like to get this as a Christmas gift?  The Myriopticon: Historical Panorama: The Rebellion is a toy theater containing twenty-two colored illustrations of the Civil War. The images are printed on a continuous roll of paper attached to a spindle. Wooden knobs on the ends can be turned to change the display. The roll was contained in a decorated box resembling a life-sized stage. As the knob turned, the next picture would slide into place. 

The handheld toy was a replica of the real, movie-theater sized shows that were popular in the late nineteenth century. In the decades before real movies, there were lots of indoor shows that featured huge pictures and special effects. They often involved the Civil War, since that was the most important recent event.  This toy version, like its stage counterpart, even came with tickets, a movie poster, and narration describing the images. The stories were to be read aloud as the images were shown.

The Myriopticon was one of the first toys created by the famous American toy manufacturer Milton Bradley (the company still exists today). Bradley was ahead of his time because he was interested in new ideas about how children learn.  He produced the first colored crayons and, related to the Myriopticon, marketed a kind of early motion picture device—a spinning slotted drum that had pictures on the inside of it--called the zoetrope. Other toys that were popular during the Civil War included dolls, marbles, and games.   

1. Describe the object. How does it work? Can you think of any toys like this where you look into something at pictures?

2. Can you think of any toys these days that deal with war?  What are they?  How do they make war seem?

3. What pictures do you think children saw when they looked into the Myriopticon? Why might they want to “play war”?

Further reading:
Marten, James. “History in a Box: Milton Bradley’s Myriopticon.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 2, no. 1 (2009): 3-7.

Newberry Library. "The Myriopticon." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

Robinson, David. From Peepshow to Palace: The Birth of American Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago