Eadweard Muybridge - Horse in Motion (ca. 1878)

Early Motion Pictures

Experiments in projections of animated images continued until advances in photographic technology allowed for the use of photographs on spinning discs. In 1873, Eadweard Muybridge created a system of high-speed cameras for studying the motion of animals and humans. Muybridge mounted his photos on a Phenakistiscope wheel, and projected the image- referring to his invention as the “Zoopraxiscope”.

In 1872, Muybridge was hired by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford (later the founder of Stanford University) to photograph horses in motion. Stanford had made a bet that while galloping, a horse would have all hooves simultaneously off the ground. Due to technical difficulties and Muybridge’s arrest (and subsequent acquittal) for shooting his young wife’s lover, completion of the project was delayed until 1878. 

Began with 12 cameras and eventually expanded to 40

Conducted experiment after hired by California gov Leland Stanford about the mid-stride hoof position of a galloping horse

Mounted his photos on a Phenakistiscope wheel and projected (as Uchatius); referred to his invention as the Zoopraxiscope

Meet the Art - Eadweard Muybridge Photographs of Motion

In 1882, Frenchman Etienne-Jules Marey created the “Chrono-photographie”, a camera that could “shoot” multiple images on a glass plate.

Etienne-Jules Marey - Chrono-photographie


A major breakthrough in film technology came with the advent of cellulose nitrate film (1889), developed by George Eastman for his line of still cameras. The film strips had perforated edges to allow film advancement within the camera. One of his first customers was Thomas Edison, who applied the technology to his burgeoning film device, later dubbed the “Kinetoscope”. The kinetoscope was also part of an early failed effort to synchronize film with a sound device (the “Kinetophone”). See The Dickson Experimental Sound Film.

Thomas Edison - Kinetophone and Kinetoscope

The Dixon Experimental Sound Film represents an attempt by Thomas Edison to synchronize sound and film 30 years before it became a reality in the film industry. In order to maximize contrast in the film, Edison built a  sound stage with dark walls and natural lighting, and a special recording system. Although successful on some levels, the technology was not successful in the commercial marketplace. Film with synchronized sound proved elusive for another 30 years.

William Dixon Experimental Sound Film (1894)

Kinetoscope Parlors

In 1894, Thomas Edison opened his first Kinetoscope parlor in New York City.  Over the following months, parlors sprung up in major American and European cities. The Kinetoscope was a large, awkward device, and required the user to look through a “peep hole” to see the film, which lasted no more that 30 seconds. Edison patented the device in the United States, but his ownership of the technology in Europe was not secured.

Kinetoscope Parlor (1894)

Kinetoscope Parlor - San Francisco (1895)

US Navy film “Origins of the Motion Picture” (1956)