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This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Love Cat Videos? Thank Eadweard Muybridge

I’ll bet you’ve watched your fair share of cat videos online, haven’t you? Admit it: you’ve spent hours of your life giggling over the antics of other people’s cats. But have you ever wondered where cat videos really got their start?

To find out, let’s meet a pioneer in motion studies: Eadweard Muybridge (yes, that’s how he spelled it; we’ll get to that).

Muybridge and motion

Eadweard Muybridge ca. 1899; public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Eadweard Muybridge ca. 1899.
Photo reproduced in Optic Projection, 1914.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) was born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England. He later changed the spelling of his name to what he believed to be the original Anglo-Saxon form. Muybridge immigrated to the United States when he was 20 and started trying to photograph motion in 1872. He’d been hired by former California governor Leland Stanford to prove that all four of a horse’s legs were off the ground at a particular point in its trotting gait. This proved difficult, though, as Muybridge’s camera didn’t have a fast enough shutter. In any event, the locomotion studies got put on hold after Muybridge shot and killed his wife’s lover. He was acquitted in his 1875 trial on the grounds of “justifiable homicide,” and in 1877 he started working on motion photography again. This time he set up a battery of 12 cameras with a shutter speed of 2 one-thousandths of a second. This allowed him to finally prove Stanford’s contention about a trotting horse’s hooves. Later setups used a series of 24 cameras.

In 1879, Muybridge created a thing he called a zoopraxiscope, which was basically an early movie projector. It worked by projecting images from a rotating disk to give the illusion of motion. He used this device in lecture tours across the United States and Europe.

24 consecutive images a cat running. Eadweard Muybridge, 1887. From Animal Locomotion.
This series of 24 photos shows a cat running. Photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, June 13, 1887.
From the book Animal Locomotion, pl. 720, via Library of Congress.

Animal Locomotion

Muybridge worked under the sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania through much of the 1880s, taking movement studies of human models and of animals from the Philadelphia Zoo. His work was important to the development of biomechanics, photography, and motion pictures, and his images are still used by artists who want to portray figures in motion. In 1887, his photos were published in the book Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Connective Phases of Animal Movements. This volume had 781 plates and 20,000 photographs, including the series of cat photos above. And if you take a series of Muybridge’s cat photos and run them in sequence … you get a cat video:

So, next time you hurt your sides guffawing at some cat video on YouTube, take a moment to remember and thank Eadweard Muybridge, who made it all possible.


Biography.com, “Eadweard Muybridge,” http://www.biography.com/people/eadweard-muybridge-9419513

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Eadweard Muybridge,” last updated Feb. 25, 2011, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eadweard-Muybridge

Wikipedia, “Eadweard Muybridge,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge.


  1. I've seen the video of the falling cat, also from about this time period, but this is the first I've seen Muybridge's video in motion. Wonderful!

  2. That's so cool! Who'd have guessed that cat videos would one day take over the world?

  3. Very interesting, I had not heard of him before.