Pepper’s Ghost – the innovation from the 19th century

Pepper's Ghost effect

When did Pepper develop the ghost effect?

In 1860, more than 150 years ago, the first holographic elements were shown on stage, thanks to Pepper.

So let’s start at the very beginning. How is it possible that the first holograms were shown in the middle of the century-before-last? Or rather, which technology was developed at that time, which still forms the basis for the new 3D holograms, even today?

What is the legendary Pepper’s Ghost effect?

Pepper’s Ghost is an illusionary trick from the 19th century. Due to the reflective properties of glass and later specially designed plastic panes as well as polyester foils (depending on the desired application), objects are virtually projected into the air from a place invisible to the audience, either below or next to the presentation surface, and thus appear in the field of vision of the viewers.

How does the Pepper’s Ghost effect work?

Theoretically, the principle of holography from the year 1860 is quite simple: By means of a sheet of glass, special lighting, and using the reflective properties of the glass, the impression or optical illusion is created that objects or persons appear and disappear. The technology at that time was, of course, rudimentary due to the weak light sources, such as oil lamps and candles, and the images that appeared were only faintly recognizable or very transparent. For that reason, mainly ghosts, phantoms, or other inexplicable phenomena were shown, which also led to the naming of Pepper’s Ghost – after the inventor John Henry Pepper and his ghostly technology.


How does the Pepper's Ghost effect work?

Illustration – Pepper’s Ghost now and then

Today, Pepper’s technique of illuminating an object, which is naturally reflected in the glass pane or foil, has been replaced. High-performance projectors reproduce the 3D animated holograms via mirrors or by directly projecting them onto the glass panes – high-quality screens are also used. Modern 3D holograms have only become possible due to the immense progress made in projector technology and the high-performance computers capable of generating the 3D animations.

Where is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today?

Today, the Pepper’s Ghost effect is used in 3D holography pyramids, as an eye-catcher at trade shows, in museums, as stage holograms of music stars, or for transmitting press conferences.

If you have ideas about where you would like to use a hologram for your company – simply ask us holography specialistswe will be happy to help you.


John Henry Pepper yy Henry Maull London via Wikimedia Commons

Who was the legendary John Henry Pepper?

John Henry Pepper, or Professor Pepper, was born on June 17, 1821 in Westminster, London and lived there until his death on March 25, 1900. Pepper was a British scientist, lectured from 1847 at the Royal Polytechnic Institution of today’s University of Westminster and later became director of the university.

John Henry Pepper was legendary for bringing complex scientific topics and innovations closer to the audience in a practical and easily understandable way through demonstrations and a good portion of entertainment.

In addition to his scientific work, he developed many new presentation techniques, using tricks from magic and sorcery and enhancing these decisively.

The technique for which Pepper is still famous is the so-called Pepper’s Ghost effect – the basis for all the holograms we see today.



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