Photographer Eadweard Muybridge is considered, if not the father of the motion picture, then at least its grandfather. His revolutionary work in instantaneous photography directly inspired inventors in Europe and North America to create the earliest motion picture cameras.[i] Muybridge’s breakthrough came in 1878 when he used twelve cameras with trip wires to photograph running horses at split-second intervals. He had been commissioned to settle a “dispute among horsemen,” as he often put it, as to whether a trotting horse ever had all four hooves off the ground at once, a phenomenon known as unsupported transit. Muybridge’s photographs did what the human eye could not. He proved that unsupported transit was real, but in doing so he achieved something more spectacular—he had created the first sequence of “freeze frames” the world had ever seen. His work was soon heralded in Scientific American and The Photographic News. He was feted by the scientific communities of Paris and London, and he became an internationally celebrated lecturer on the topic of photographing motion.[ii]
The lectures Muybridge gave in such places as New York City, London, Paris, Berlin, and Philadelphia are well-documented in many of the two-dozen books that have been written about the man and his work, including four published since 2010.[iii] Yet there remain gaps in the details of Muybridge’s storied career. One such gap involves his Midwest tour of 1888. We know he gave a lecture in Milwaukee on June 21st of that year, and we know that he was interviewed in Winnipeg on July 31st, but what did he do in between?[iv] I teach in Minnesota, which lies precisely between those two points on the map, and in 2014 created an undergraduate seminar devoted to answering that question. I did not know ahead of time what we would find, if anything. As it turned out, what we found challenged my perception of Muybridge’s career and allowed my students to experience the joy of being the first to discover new information about a prominent historical figure.
Historians who mention Muybridge’s 1888 visit to the Midwest have done so thus far only in general statements such as “Muybridge continued to lecture through the summer and fall of 1888, in the Midwest as well as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.”[v] I became aware of a possible Muybridge/Minnesota connection when I read in Edward Ball’s The Inventor and the Tycoon (2013) that Muybridge planned to extend his speaking tour to Minnesota.[vi] His source, the surviving two pages of a longer letter Muybridge wrote on June 22, 1888, is the sole source of information on the Midwest tour that any Muybridge biographer ever cited.[vii] The anachronistically entitled website, The Compleat Muybridge, has two additional pieces of information—newspaper citations that place Muybridge in Milwaukee and Winnipeg—but that is the extent of the evidence at the time of this writing.[viii]
Did Muybridge visit Minnesota? If so, did he merely pass through or did he stop here and give one of his famous lectures? If he gave a lecture, how was he received? What would it have been like to be in attendance? My students and I were determined to find out.
[i] Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey: 1830-1904, 47; Brian Coe, “William Friese Greene and the Origins of Cinematography,” Screen (1969): 30; Paul Spehr, The Man Who Made Movies: W.K.L. Dickson (New Barnet, UK: John Libbey, 2008) 77 (Muybridge’s influence on Marey, Friese Greene, and Edison).
[ii] Manitoba Daily Free Press, Aug. 2, 1888, (“dispute”) 1; Scientific American, October 19, 1878, 241; Photographic News, March 17, 1882, 1.
[iii] Marta Braun, Eadweard Muybridge (London: Reaktion Books, 2010); Stephen Barber, Muybridge: The Eye in Motion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Edward Ball, The Inventor and the Tycoon (New York: Doubleday, 2013); Adam, Hans Christian, Muybridge: The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs (Cologne: Taschen, 2014).
[iv] Milwaukee Sentinel, June 22, 1888, 9; Manitoba Daily Free Press, op cit.
[v] Braun, Eadweard Muybridge, 224.
[vi] Ball, 360, 412. Ball mistakenly places the tour in 1887.
[vii] Eadweard Muybridge to Jesse Burk, June 22, 1888, Muybridge Papers, University of Pennsylvania Archives, Box 62: 6. This source is cited in Gordon Hendricks, Eadweard Muybridge: The Father of the Motion Picture (New York: Grossman, 1975), 176; Robert Bartlett Haas, Muybridge: Man in Motion (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1976), 155; Herbert, Stephen, ed., Eadweard Muybridge: The Kingston Museum Bequest (Hastings, UK: The Projection Box, 2004), 124, 150. Others, such as Braun, Eadweard Muybridge, 246, cite one or more of the earlier biographies.
Chisholm, Bradley, "Muybridge in Minnesota" (2016). Film Studies Faculty Working Papers. 1.