100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Moving Pictures
Year of Invention: 1895

What Is It? A system of rapidly changing still pictures that simulates motion,
projected onto a large screen.

Who Invented It? Antoine Lumière (in Lyon, France)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Motion pictures record and preserve history. They are a portal to places and times we cannot otherwise reach. Movies bring the world to us—with all its color, sound, and motion.

Motion pictures entertain, teach, and inform and have reshaped human attitudes and values. Many have called motion pictures the greatest entertainment medium ever invented.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

The idea of motion pictures was not new. In 1504, Leonardo da Vinci described the process and how the human mind would merge sequential images into a smooth motion. Photography developed throughout the 1820s and 1830s and blossomed in America when it was used to record the tragedy and horror of the Civil War. But slow shutter speeds (one to two seconds or longer) limited the usefulness of photography to record live events. In 1873, George Eastman (Eastman Kodak) invented long strips of cellulose film.


How Were Motion Pictures Invented?

It started with a bet—an angry, shouting bet—in 1877. California railroad tycoon Leland Stanford got into an argument over horses. He argued that there was a moment when all four of a running horse’s hooves were off the ground. Others said he was crazy. The argument grew heated and turned into a bet for $25,000 (the equivalent of half a million dollars today). Stanford and others watched race horses speed down the track. But the horses’ legs moved too fast for watchers to be sure. The bet couldn’t be settled.

Stanford hired English photographer Edwin Muybridge to resolve the dispute. Muybridge watched horses at the racetrack for several days before he envisioned a way to accomplish his mission.

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