Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, September 5, 2001

Occident, Leland Stanford's horse, first movie star


In 1872, Leland Stanford approached Eadweard James Muybridge, a British-born photographer, to ask his assistance in proving a theory: that horses, while trotting, have at one point all four hooves simultaneously off the ground. Muybridge agreed to snap some pictures to determine if this was true.

The project was interrupted, however, after Muybridge murdered his wife's lover, Maj. Henry Larkyns, by shooting him point blank at a party in Calistoga. (A jury decided that the killing was justified, and Muybridge walked away from the trial a free man.)

In 1877, using cameras placed at intervals along a racetrack, Muybridge photographed one of Stanford's prize horses, Occident. The exposures were obtained with the use of a super-fast shutter that was triggered by a trip wire, and the results proved that the theory was correct. Later, Muybridge increased the number of cameras he was using, developed a more sophisticated triggering device for the shutter and began photographing other kinds of animals and humans.

To view the rapid sequence of images in a way that simulated movement, Muybridge invented a motion-picture projector, the zoopraxiscope, in 1879. The stop-action photos were reproduced using paint on a glass disc that rotated to create the illusion of movement.