An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. The left image shows the Antikythera, the oldest known orrery. The middle image shows a virtual reconstruction. The right image shows a contemporary orrery. The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. It was recovered in 1900–01 from the Antikythera wreck, a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The instrument was designed […]
While gatefold mechanisms were already used in the 1100s, one of the first movable paper mechanisms was a volvelle created by Benedictine Monk Matthew Paris to calculate the dates of Christian holidays in his book Chronica Majorca (1236-1253, see left image above). Volvelles are paper discs or rings placed on top of each other that rotate around a string or rivet. Many other types of paper […]
Before Joseph Priestley published his famous timelines, Frenchman Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg built a 16-meter long timeline showing 140 years of world history, which can be mechanically scrolled and folded for transport. Not a physical visualization but maybe the first “interactive” timeline representation in history. Seen in a talk by Catherine Plaisant. Sources: Stephen Boyd Davis (2009) The First Modern Timeline? Stephen Ferguson (1991) The 1753 Carte Chronographique by Jacques Barbeu Du Bourg. Photos […]
Between 1839 and 1853 the French mathematician Théodore Olivier created string models to teach and demonstrate descriptive geometry, some of which could be manipulated. He was a student of French mathematician Gaspard Monge, who invented descriptive geometry and was already illustrating his ideas with rudimentary string models. Photo above: intersection of two cylinders. Sources: Nicholas Mee (2013) Strings, Surfaces and Physics. Photo above taken in the […]
The boundaries of the United States transformed during the 19th century, often through violent means. Mapmaker James Ives created this mechanical map to help people, especially students, visualize these changes. Sources: Leventhal Map Center (2019) Tweet. Boston Rare Maps (2016) Fantastic mechanical map of United States territorial expansion. Video by the Leventhal Map Center.
Philadelphia-based multi-discipline artist Bradley Litwin built this physical chart that can be animated by turning a crank. It is the only manually-animated physical visualization we know of so far. It was commissionned by a pharmaceutical company, intended as an educational device for distributing to doctors. Bradley was kind enough to send us an image of the insides of the original prototype, "not quite as pretty as the final product", […]
In 2013, Italian graphic designer Elena Turtas crafted four books that convey data about sustainability using pop-up and movable paper mechanisms. Source: Elena Turtas (2014) The Four Books of Visualising Sustainability.