Eadweard Muybridge: The Eccentric Forefather of the Animated GIF

In 1860, an English bookseller named Eadweard Muybridge smacked his head during a runaway stagecoach accident and became a little bit unhinged. The injury permanently altered Muybridge’s mind—he hit his head so hard that he temporarily lost his sense of taste. But it also unleashed a wave of obsessive creativity that indirectly led to the invention of the animated GIF.

On a doctor’s recommendation, the bookseller took up photography and became so prolific that he eventually dropped his old job and became a professional photographer. Later that decade, he went to the United States and made a name for himself photographing Yosemite Valley and other wonders of the American West.

In the early 1870s, Muybridge's talents attracted the attention of railroad tycoon and former California governor Leland Stanford, who, according to an unsubstantiated legend, wanted to settle a $25,000 wager: Do all four hooves of a galloping horse leave the ground? (The truth is that Stanford was probably just curious for unscientific reasons: He wanted to learn how to make his pricey racehorses run faster.) To find the answer, the ex-governor hired Muybridge, who would spend the next six years tinkering with his cameras to capture the images.

It was an incredibly difficult project. In the early 1870s, the average camera’s exposure time elapsed for two seconds; capturing the split-second movements of a galloping horse was literally impossible. To solve the problem, Muybridge created “mechanical shutters, made of wood, rubber springs, and a trigger that would snap closed within one-thousandth of a second,” Haleema Shah writes in Smithsonian. The first images, however, were too blurry.

It didn’t help that Muybridge was running into trouble with the law. In 1874, his project stalled completely while he stood trial for murdering his wife’s lover. He was acquitted with help from Stanford’s lawyers, who argued it was a "justifiable homicide." (The composer Philip Glass would dramatize the trial in a 1982 opera called The Photographer.) Finally, in 1878, Muybridge successfully captured a running horse’s gait with the help of a few dozen plate-glass cameras. The verdict? Horses briefly go airborne.

For scientists, artists, inventors, and photographers, the pictures were groundbreaking—and today they’re iconic. “Many people didn’t believe it,” art curator Philip Brookman tells NPR. “They thought they were fake because the horse looked so strange.”

Muybridge later used the images to develop the world’s first motion picture projector, a revolving glass disc called the zoopraxiscope (or “animal action view.”) He would also take dozens more split-second action photographs—bison running, horses jumping hurdles, and even naked boys playing leapfrog. Today, these images are considered a distant ancestor of everything from the modern animated GIF to big-screen movies.

In fact, Muybridge showed the device to Thomas Edison in 1888, who eventually used the concept to develop the first motion picture exhibition device, the kinetoscope. So the next time you're giggling at the latest meme or watching the latest big feature film, remember you have a crafty (and murderous!) Englishman—and horses everywhere—to thank.

Soon You'll Be Able to Book a Night Inside the Palace of Versailles

The exterior of the Palace of Versailles
The exterior of the Palace of Versailles
mtnmichelle/iStock via Getty Images

Beginning next spring, interested tourists can say au revoir to more traditional lodging in favor of spending the night inside the Palace of Versailles, as Thrillist reports.

Back in 2015, the palace’s management announced it was looking for an outside partner to convert three of the palace’s buildings into guest accommodations. That outside partner turned out to be Airelles, a luxury hospitality group with three other properties in France.

In 2020, the company will begin accepting bookings for Le Grand Contrôle, a 14-room hotel located in the palace’s south wing. The hotel will also feature a new restaurant from famed French chef Alain Ducasse, the second-most decorated Michelin star chef in the world.

Tourists beware, though: A single night at the company’s other properties generally cost upwards of $500 per night, so a stay at Le Grand Contrôle is unlikely to be cheap. But visitors who want to shell out the money for a room can look forward to an unbeatable location, first-class dining, and the joy of relaxing while telling others to “let them eat cake” (which Marie Antoinette never said, but it's befitting nonetheless).

[h/t Thrillist]

Further Reading: Books About (And By) Theodore Roosevelt

Alexander Lambert // Library of Congress
Alexander Lambert // Library of Congress

If you're enjoying what you're learning on History Vs. Theodore Roosevelt, we suggest checking out these books about—and a few of them by—our 26th president. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast here!

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The first book in Morris’s trilogy covers TR’s years from birth to the vice presidency.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

The second book in Morris’s trilogy covers TR’s seven years in the White House.

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The final book in the trilogy focuses on Roosevelt’s post-presidential years.

Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life by Kathleen Dalton

A fascinating one-volume biography of Roosevelt.

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family by William J. Mann

In addition to covering the big three Roosevelts—TR, FDR, and Eleanor—this must-read book features the Roosevelt siblings and cousins, revealing secrets and feuds within this famous family.

Theodore Roosevelt's Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon by Michael Cullinane

An analysis of Roosevelt’s legacy.

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley

A look at TR’s life from a naturalist perspective.

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks

A look at TR’s time as police commissioner of New York.

Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

This book covers when Roosevelt was accused of libel, and took the stand in his own defense.

Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis

An account of the lives of Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington, and their relationship—including their dinner, which made history.

Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician's Quest for Recovery in the American West by Roger L. Di Silvestro

Di Silvestro’s book covers TR’s time as a rancher in the Dakotas, where he retreated after the deaths of his wife and mother and a rough end to his career as an assemblyman.

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough

This National Book Award–winning biography takes on TR’s early years.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

An account of Roosevelt’s journey down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon—during which he almost died.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A look at the relationship between Roosevelt and his successor, Taft, a one-time friend who became an enemy.

A Passion to Lead: Theodore Roosevelt in His Own Words by Edited by Laura Ross

Selections from Roosevelt’s writings accompanied by gorgeous photographs.

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt on hunting.

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt on his time as a rancher in the Dakotas.

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt

This book, published in 1913, is Roosevelt's life in his own words.

Theodore Roosevelt: Letters and Speeches

This book features four famous speeches and more than 350 letters written by TR to family, friends, and diplomats between 1881 and 1919.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER