A Pocket stereoscope with original test image. (Wikimedia Commons)

A Pocket stereoscope with original test image.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The West was a difficult place to reach in the 1860s. It was mysterious and highly romanticized by people living in the East. Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the only ways to travel west were by stage coach, by horse, or by water. All of which were slow, inconvenient and dangerous. The idea of western tourism didn’t come along until much later, when the railroad made it safer and faster to reach destinations. This made “the great west” mysterious and interesting.

To satisfy the need to safely experience the west, people purchased and viewed photos, postcards, and stereocards depicting images of the West. Stereocards were like an early form of a “Viewmaster” or 3D photograph. Each card had two almost identical pictures mounted on a stiff cardboard backing. When viewed through a device called a stereoscope, a three-dimensional image could be seen.

The John and Frances Casement papers contain several dozen stereocards depicting the towns and landscapes visited by those migrating westward in the mid- to late-19th Century. Several examples are provided below.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger versions of the stereocards.