Movies, United States

The Original Man Behind the Scenes

Can you imagine a world without movies, television, computer/phone screens, or any other forms of video media?  It is difficult to think of now, but all of those are relatively new in the scheme of things.  You would not be able to watch the news, a movie, a YouTube video, or even on snapchat or instagram if not for a simple bet made nearly 140 years ago.  The creator of all of this, or the original man behind the scenes, was a man named Eadweard Muybridge.  People value video entertainment and visual media so much in these days, but most do not think twice about where it originally came from. Considering how many of the platforms he preceded people use in everyday life, more people need to know who Eadweard Muybridge was.

The Horse in Motion (Reilly)

It was the late 1800’s, the time of the Industrial Revolution, and innovation was the name of the game. Since the U.S. was a newly independent country, everybody was now focused on improving and creating new technology. Many new mediums were becoming commonplace to people.  Every new invention was striving to make lives better and easier.  The lightbulb, the locomotive, the telephone; all aimed to improve lives for the masses.  

The lightbulb made people able to stay up until whatever hour they pleased to work.  The locomotive allowed for easy transport where before most people never travelled 50 miles outside of their hometown.  The telephone created a whole new, easy network of communication. Leland Stanford is the founder of Stanford University and one of the men behind the Transcontinental Railroads, which were actually centered around and in Sacramento. In 1872, Leland made a $25,000 bet; if or if not all four of a horse’s hooves come off of the ground when it runs or not.  He hired Eadweard Muybridge, one of most famous and well renowned photographers, to help him.  Muybridge set up 12 fast shutter-cameras with tripwires across the racetrack that would take pictures as the horse crossed them.  The pictures were taken, and within an hour the bet had been decided in Stanford’s favor.  All four hooves of a horse, at certain times, do come off of the ground.  Stanford won the bet and was astonished by the results. Stanford started funding Muybridge to do more experiments on motion studies.  Muybridge saw this as an opportunity to do something great.  He went off to create the zoopraxiscope, the first motion picture machine based off of his multiple camera experiment.  It would display the pictures(the beginning of projection) one after another in a circle, essentially

Zoopraxiscope Slide (Zoopraxiscope)

creating the first film reels as well. This invention was the start of videos as well as  the whole movie business that is so prevalent in today’s world.  So, if you think about it, the beginnings of California’s Hollywood, were located in Sacramento! In Edward Ball’s book, The Inventor and the Tycoon, he wrote, “the code Muybridge cracked, the crime he committed for which no one charged him, was the kidnapping of time.  Before his camera, three media – writing, theater, and music acted as vessels of time… Movies hold the world in a perpetual present, bringing dead time back to life” (Ball).  With the power to capture a whole moment in time, instead of just  an instant, Muybridge had created the fourth dimension of media; today it being one of the most popular, if not the most popular form of media.

Thomas Edison, also a famous inventor, saw Muybridge’s work and began to copy him (as he did with many inventors in his time).  He took Muybridge’s idea and improved it with the Kinetograph.  Edison and Co. would begin to create the first films in history.  In Thomas Edison Laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey, he began the filmmaking process.  His first real film ever created was a 5 second long clip of a man sneezing.  That sneeze is often called the “sneeze heard around the world” (Reilly).  From Muybridge’s initial invention, Edison went on to set the foundation for the movie industry.  He created arcade-like buildings with Kinetographs lining the walls for people to view the short films.  This was the next step to our current method.  The accessibility of this project was what really made it revolutionary.  The films were very cheap and casual to view which allowed poor, lower class people to enjoy themselves.  Similar to the railroads, films completely turned people’s lives around during this time.  For the first time they could see other places in the world in action without actually being there in person.  To someone who had lived their whole life on a farm and had never seen a big city, a film like “What Happened on 23rd Street?” would be amazing “as trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, and dapper men amble down a dusty NYC street, a couple—two actors—walk to the camera and pause” (Reilly).  Also, they were all silent films so they had no language barrier.  So this means that for immigrants, they were a perfect form of entertainment. These first motion pictures were a form of media that was able to include everyone who was living in the U.S. The movie market started to grow into a market for everybody because everyone was able to enjoy Edison’s films.

Nowadays, instead of standing in a room with many other mini-theaters, we sit back in our electronic reclining leather chairs and eat popcorn in front of enormous screens all watching the same flick.  The way we view movies may have changed, but the reasons they exist are still very similar.  Films still provide cheap and casual entertainment for everyone in a fun atmosphere.   They allow people to see places they have not been, or imaginary places that amaze them.  Professor Pautz of University of Dayton said “movies can be a great mechanism for conversation and reflection. ‘It’s one of the most accessible forms of art out there,’ she said. ‘People of most walks of life experience movies, from the working class to the super-rich, and it provides a common experience for society to talk about issues with a bit of a ‘safety net.’’’ (Guida).  Movies now are also able to tug on people’s emotions.  Sound and better quality make for more impactful and emotional films than there ever could have been in the zoopraxiscope days.  There are many films today that are simply meant for providing humor, giving the audience something to laugh about. For example, these types of movies often contain characters that have funny characteristics and quirks. They also will tap into stereotypes that will kind of make fun of a group of people but in a way that will make that featured group of people laugh.  Another purpose of films today, unlike the many of the pioneer films, is to cause the audience to ponder on deeper meanings and issues in society. They can take any problem going on in the world or any personal issue that can relate to many people and portray an analogy that breaks them down.  The movie maybe even gives possible solutions so the problems can be fixed.  For example, many movies today that feature super hero characters, contain messages of who the everyday person should strive to be, what people need to do to fight for what the think is right, etc. Many other current films will showcase issues such as equal rights, racism, mental illness, and the purpose of life. Without Muybridge’s initial invention, though, none of the moving pictures, of any kind, that we have today would exist.

Are you able to imagine a world without movies, television, or any video media?  They make such an impact on our daily lives that it really is hard to imagine.  The average American spends 5 hours a day watching television, so shouldn’t we know where it came from (Hinckley)?  Eadweard Muybridge is who began the moving picture process and invention line, so we owe it to him to know his name and his story.

Article by Garrett Watkins and Lily Altom

Works Cited

Alfred, Randy. “June 15, 1878: Muybridge Horses Around With Motion Pictures.” Wired, CNMN,

Ball, Edward. The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. 1959.

Dictionary of American Biography. 1936. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.

Encyclopædia Britannica. “Eadweard Muybridge.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.

Guida, John. “How Movies Can Change Our Minds.” New York Times. New York Times, Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.

Hinckley, David. “Average American watches 5 hours of TV per day, report shows.” NY Daily News, 5 Mar. 2014, Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.

Movie Theater. Istock, Getty, Accessed 2 Nov. 2017.

“Photography.” Gale Virtual Reference Library, Cengage Learning, 2006. Accessed 28 Oct. 2017.

Reilly, Lucas. “17 of Thomas Edison’s Oldest Films.” Mental Floss, edited by Felix Dennis, 5 Sept. 2015, Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.

Science and Its Times. 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.

Zoopraxiscope. Chem Trails Planet, WordPress, 9 July 2015, Accessed 2 Nov. 2017.

One Comment

  1. I do not think that I could imagine a world with no movies or video media. It is apart of our daily lives now and we have become addicted to it. I learned about this in Mr. Hodgins APUSH class and it allowed me to see how Thomas Edison stole peoples ideas and got credit and rich off of them.