The First Motion Picture


Did you know that the invention of the moving picture came about in large part due to a wager? Railroad tycoon Leland Stanford had a running bet with a number of his fellow race horse owners about whether or not a horse at speed had at least one hoof on the ground at all times. His fellow owners believed that this was the case, but Stanford contended that a horse’s hooves could all leave the ground in stride. It was too difficult to prove his case conclusively with the naked eye, so in 1872 Stanford told noted still photographer Eadweard Muybridge he’d give him $25,000 (approximately $500,000 in 2015 dollars) if he could figure out how to photograph a horse in motion to prove his point.

Muybridge had a number of challenges to overcome. The first was creating an exposure that would ‘freeze’ an object in motion. At the time, a photograph was made by the photographer uncapping a small hole in front of the film for a duration of time that was usually measured in seconds. Anything in motion during the exposure would be blurred, so to capture a horse mid-stride he was going to need an exposure that would last a fraction of a second.  Muybridge achieved this by creating more sensitive film emulsions and one of the earliest ‘shutters’. His version was a gravity-activated wood shutter consisting of a small piece of wood with a hole drilled in it that slid past the lens. A pin held it in place over the lens and when the pin was removed, gravity would cause the wood to drop and as the hole moved past the lens, the film was exposed for a fraction of a second. By 1877, Muybridge had succeeded in capturing an image in less than an astonishing 1/2000th of a second. To put this in perspective, a century later most mechanical shutters in consumer single lens reflex cameras topped out at 1/1000thof a second.

The shutter worked, but there was still the matter of capturing a sequence of images to show the motion of the horse running. In order to achieve this, Muybridge assembled a row of 12 cameras and to each camera he attached a trip wire that would activate the shutter when the horse was in front of the camera.

On June 15, 1878, before an assembled group of journalists and Leland Stanford, Muybridge successfully photographed Stanford’s top trotter as it tripped the wires at about 40 feet per second, setting off all 12 cameras in rapid succession in less than half a second.

About 20 minutes later, Muybridge produced the freshly developed photographic plates to the crowd and discovered the horse, indeed, lifted all four legs off the ground during its stride. The success of this test resulted in Muybridge further developing the motion picture concept into a device called the ‘zoopraxiscope’ which projected round disks of sequential images to produce one of the first ‘motion pictures’ devices.

The first cocktail one associates with horses is, of course, the Mint Julep.

3-6 fresh mint leaves

¼ oz of simple syrup

2 oz of good bourbon

crushed ice

Mix bourbon and simple syrup in a small pitcher. Pack a metal Julep cup with crushed ice, pressing the ice down to compact it. At the rim of the glass, press mint garnish around edges so that it forms a wreath. Add bourbon and simple syrup, dust with a bit of powdered sugar, and drink through a straw cut 1 inch higher than the glass.


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