How Did a Running Horse Lead to the Invention of Movies?

By the 1870s, a few men in Europe and America had built machines that could spin wheels of photographs so quickly that they looked as if the people in the photos were moving. But no one had really invented what we would call motion pictures.

Then in 1872, a wealthy man named Leland Stanford wanted to find out how a horse moves its legs when it’s running, because a running horse moves its legs so quickly that no one could tell for sure. So Stanford hired a man named John Isaacs to take pictures of a running horse, pictures he hoped would show how the horse moves its legs.

Isaacs invented a set-up of still cameras and worked with Eadweard Muybridge, who took each separate picture of the running horse. This series of photos was the first continuous action to be recorded on film.

But Isaacs and Stanford weren’t especially interested in motion pictures, so didn’t do anything else with their idea. Then Thomas Edison heard about Isaacs’ work, and set out to invent a movie camera. In 1889, Edison showed the world the first true motion picture in West Orange, New Jersey.