These activities are based on artifacts from Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation

Artifact no. 1987.0280.001 (Zoetrope); 1987.0281.001 (Zoetrope strip)

STL file of original artifact (for viewing only)
STL file of the stand (for 3D printing)
STL file of the base (for 3D printing)

Learn more about this artifact
Download the .pdf version


Zoetropes are an early form of animation technology. A zoetrope is made up of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. On the inner surface of the cylinder is a row of sequential images. The cylinder is spun by hand, and the viewer looks through the slits as the images rotate quickly within the cylinder. Instead of seeing a blur or images, the viewer sees the images appear to be moving. The first device of this type was invented in 1834 by William Horner who named it a Daedalum (‘Wheel of the Devil’). The technology was forgotten for many years, but was rediscovered and patented in a number of countries, including Canada, from 1867 onward. In 1867, the name Zoetrope was patented by an American named William F. Lincoln.

Connecting and Relating

  • Have you ever seen or used a zoetrope? If so where? (e.g., in movie, a museum display, etc.)
  • What sort of image would you animate if you made a zoetrope?
  • What do you think it was like to see a zoetrope in action for the first time?

Engaging with the Artifact

Historical Significance

  • The zoetrope was a popular Victorian era parlour What other toys and games were popular during this period (1837-1901)?
  • In what way did toys like the zoetrope make modern cinema and animation possible?
  • Create a timeline of animation devices from the flipbook and thaumatrope to modern stop motion technology.

Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment

  • Find out why this device is called a “zoetrope.”(The word zoetrope is based on Greek words zoe meaning ‘life’ and tropos meaning ‘to turn’)
  • How are concepts related to optics and the human brain applied to the construction of a zoetrope?

Exploring Concepts

  • How does the speed of spinning the cylinder effect how the images appear to be moving? (the faster the spinning, the smoother the apparent motion of images)
  • Why are the slits in the cylinder important? What role do they play in viewing the images?
  • Compare and contrast a zoetrope with a praxinoscope. How do they use optics in similar and different ways?
  • Explain how ‘persistence of vision’ and ‘beta movement’ allows us to believe that a series of still images are moving.

Nature of Technology

  • Find a way to make the cylinder spin without using your hands (e.g., put on a record turntable, wind a string around the shaft and pull, add fins to the outside of the cylinder and use a fan to push, etc.)
  • Which communication devices led to the end of the zoetrope? (the praxinoscope (1887), photographic film (1889), moving pictures (1895))

Hack it

  • 3D print one copy of the artifact at its original size and shape. Modify the length of the arms which hold the paper cylinder on the STL file and print the artifact again. Put a paper zoetrope strip on each one and spin. How does the radius of the cylinder affect how the images appear? How does the paper zoetrope strip need to be modified to match the length of the arms?
  • Instead of using images on a paper strip, design and 3D print a series of objects that can be attached to the inside of the cylinder or made part of the cylinder itself (e.g., like this LEGO Zeotrope)

Additional References

Education Services / L’équipe des services d’éducation

This content is provided through Let's Talk Science's Education Services team.

Ce contenu est fourni par l'équipe des services d'éducation de Parlons sciences.

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