Have you ever played with a kaleidoscope? These toys can mesmerize and amaze children for hours, as they peer through the eyepiece to see ever-changing patterns of beautiful colors and shifting images.
But what exactly is a kaleidoscope? Kaleidoscopes look a little bit like a small telescope that you can hold in your hands. One end has a hole you can look into. The other end has translucent paper or other material that lets light in.
Inside the kaleidoscope, there are mirrors arranged in a circle, as well as a variety of colorful objects, like beads, pebbles or small pieces of glass, that are free to move around. As you look through the viewer and rotate the outside of the kaleidoscope, the mirrors reflect the movement of the small objects to create fascinating visual images that change with each movement.
Scottish inventor Sir David Brewster created the kaleidoscope in 1815 when he was doing experiments on light polarization. He came up with the name “kaleidoscope” by combining several Greek words that meant “observer of beautiful forms.”
The key to a kaleidoscope’s beautiful patterns and images is the concept of multiple reflections. Using several mirrors attached at specific angles, unique duplicate images of whatever objects are inside the kaleidoscope can be created as a colorful pattern.
At first, Brewster intended his creation to be used as a scientific tool. It became very popular as a toy, though. In 1817, Brewster sold over 200,000 kaleidoscopes in London and Paris in just three months!
Brewster thought he would likely become wealthy as a result of his invention. However, a fault in his application for a patent for his invention allowed others to copy his invention. Today, kaleidoscopes can be made from just about any type of material, from plastic and cardboard to wood, steel, brass and even stained glass.