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Five Educational Technologies, Circa 1918

One hundred years ago, today’s classroom would have been unimaginable. From white boards to laptops to learning management systems that enable learners to learn anywhere and anytime, there is not much about today’s classroom technologies that reflects those present in a classroom from 1918.  However, this doesn’t mean that our counterparts back in 1918 didn’t have their own form of “ed tech.” From magic lanterns to early radio, our 1918 counterparts were also the beneficiaries of a wide range of educational technologies.

Magic Lanterns

Although they date back to the seventeenth century, magic lanterns are most often remembered as a Victorian technology. As Elizabeth Shepard observes in her 2013 article, “The ‘magic lantern’ slide originated in Europe as an entertainment, but in the United States it came to wield its greatest impact as an instructional device in public lectures and in formal education.” Shepard further notes, “The first transparencies ( ‘slides ’) for use in such lanterns were hand-painted glass disks mounted in wooden frames. Despite these early antecedents, it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the lantern came to be used in America, as a result of efforts by the Langenheim Brothers of Philadelphia to produce lantern slides photographically.” While magic lanterns would be replaced by slide projectors by the 1930s, at the end of World War I, an estimated 8,000 lantern slides were circulating through the Chicago public school system alone.


While it may be difficult to imagine, in 1918, chalkboards were still a relatively new educational technology. Although students had been writing on slate tablets for centuries, teachers has no way to easily present lessons to a large group at the front of the classroom. As legend has it, in 1801, a Scottish teacher named James Pillans rigged up a large piece of slate at the front of his classroom and the modern chalkboard was born. The…

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