Just as it is today, California in the 1800’s was a place to reinvent yourself – perhaps more than once. Edward Muybridge was a man of with many hats, a series of professions and a half-dozen names. Muybridge – born Edward Muggeridge – was a bookseller, inventor, banker and even a murderer. But the calling that would earn him respect and notoriety – photography – also secured his place in history.
Muybridge’s friend and patron, the railroad tycoon Leland Stanford, was another reinvented, bigger-than-life figure in California history and founder of the Palo Alto university named for his dead son. A discussion between the two about Stanford’s beloved racehorses sparked a question: when a horse runs, do all four hooves leave the ground at any point? It was Muybridge who found a way to answer the question, thanks to innovative use of his camera. And in doing so, he originated the technique of stop-motion photography, paving the way to the invention of motion pictures years before Thomas Edison introduced his Kinetoscope.
The story of these two men, vagabond and tycoon, is every bit as cinematic as the art form they inspired. And in their intertwining journeys to California, they rewrote its history even as they were reinventing their own.
Edward Ball, author of "The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures" (Doubleday) and the National Book Award-winning "Slaves in the Family"
See Muybridge’s horse in motion, widely considered to be the first motion picture: