A History of Animation

The Thaumotrope and the Phenakistoscope

The Thaumotrope [pronounced 'thaw-mo-trope'] is a small disc held on opposite sides of its circumference by a piece of string. Alternatively, the disc is mounted onto a stick and rotated between the fingers.


An image is drawn on each side of the disc and when the disc is spun the two images appear superimposed. The name Thaumotrope means 'turning marvel' or 'wonder turner' and its invention is often accredited to Astronomer Sir John Herschel.

The Phenakistoscope, also known as the spindle viewer, was invented by two people in the same year: by Joseph Plateau and his sons at the same time as Simon Von Stampfer of Vienna independently developed the same technology. A Phenakistoscope is an animation wheel made of two discs. These are connected by a handle which the viewer holds.


Download a worksheet with instructions on how to make your own Thaumotrope.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Armley Mills Museum, Leeds Museums and Galleries | 
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