NPR logo 1906 San Fran Quake In Color ... And 3-D

Smithsonian: Behind The Scenes

1906 San Fran Quake In Color ... And 3-D

A Kromograph consists of three exposures of green, blue and red, which are then layered and viewed with a Kromscope to give the full-color and 3-D effect. The images in the slideshow have been combined digitally to simulate the effect. Smithsonian's National Museum of American History hide caption

toggle caption
Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian has recently rediscovered a rare perspective on San Francisco's legendary 1906 quake: 3-D, color stereo photographs. They are assuredly some of the earliest true color stereo photos in history, according to the Smithsonian, and possibly the first color photos of San Francisco.

Again this week, the West Coast has met the familiar face of natural disaster, in the fallout of Japan's earthquake and tsunami. But the 1906 quake still stands out as one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Registering at a magnitude of 7.9, it was felt from Los Angeles up the coast to Oregon, and killed at least 700 people.

The images — which show the destruction in San Francisco six months after the quake — are credited to pioneering photographer Frederick Eugene Ives, who according to the Smithsonian, "rarely issued licenses for the use of his many patents, so today his name is not widely known." He patented the method and called the photos Kromograms. To get the 3-D effect, a viewer called a Kromscope is required — much like a viewer is required for all stereograms.