Staff Pick: The Inventor & the Tycoon

The Inventor and the Tycoon book cover The Inventor and the Tycoon, by the National Book Award winning author Edward Ball, is a fascinating history of California, cinematography, a sensational murder, and two very different men. Edward (later Eadweard) Muybridge was making a name for himself with his landscape photography (particularly of Yosemite) when he met former governor and absurdly rich railroad tycoon Leland Stanford. Stanford was obsessed with horses, and particularly the question of whether a horse's hooves were ever simultaneously off the ground while trotting or galloping. He wondered if there was a way that a photograph could be taken that would prove this theory of "unsupported transit," and hired Muybridge to find out. At that time, the subject of a photograph had to be completely still for up to a minute. Using Stanford's vast resources, Muybridge was the first to take a clear picture of a moving object, and managed to take the first step toward moving pictures while he was at it. His "zoopraxiscope" projected his photographs onto a wall in a quick series, so that the pictures moved; in other words, they were the world's first stop-motion animated "movies."

stop-motion animation of a horse galloping

Edward Muybridge was famous for another reason besides his ground-breaking photography: he was a murderer. Because he was already well-known for his Yosemite pictures when he killed his wife's lover, his became one of the first sensationalist trials in the country. Had he been convicted, the invention of motion pictures would have been a very different story. 

Thomas Edison took credit for the invention of the movies, but as this book makes clear, it was Muybridge's eccentric genius fueled by Stanford's neverending flow of cash that planted the first seed of what would become a world-wide obsession with moving images.

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*The .gif of a horse running, courtesy of