The paper provides an account of the history of geometric probability and stereology from the time of Newton to the early 20th century. It depicts the development of two parallel ways: on one hand, the theory of geometric probability was formed with minor attention paid to other applications than those concerning spatial chance games. On the other hand, practical rules of the estimation of area or volume fraction and other characteristics, easily deducible from geometric probability theory, were proposed without the knowledge of this branch. A special attention is paid to the paper of J.-é. Barbier published in 1860, which contained the fundamental stereological formulas, but remained almost unnoticed both by mathematicians and practicians.