The Inventor and the Tycoon

Written by Edward Ball
Review by Juliet Waldron

This is an oddly organized book containing two parallel, and briefly connected, life stories, set mostly post-Civil War. Eadweard (his spelling!) Muybridge, inventor, and a man with a good claim to be called the “father of motion pictures,” is one of his subjects. Leland Stanford, railroad tycoon and founder of the university of that name, is the other. They connected as obsessives. Stanford adored his harness horses and wanted to solve the mystery of whether, in full stride, all four feet actually left the ground. Muybridge, after years of “finding himself,” finally entered the new field of photography. Using Stanford’s money and his own ingenuity, he discovered a way to capture a series of photographs which thrilled his rich patron and the world at large. Their collaboration ended badly. Stanford – and later, Edison – stole the credit for his breakthrough methods. Money talks, as it has a way of doing, and Muybridge’s story ends in obscurity. The book was occasionally fascinating, discussing the early growth of the West, and the corruption which went into it, but the author’s net spread so wide that I was driven to skip around in order to satisfy a desire for continuity. The period photography (especially Muybridge’s) was the best part.