In the late 1800s, the mechanics of human—and animal—movement was largely still a mystery. That is, until photographer Eadweard Muybridge devoted himself to studying the subject, using students and faculty from Penn and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, as well as animals from the zoo, as subjects.
In 1883, then-Provost William Pepper and other prominent Philadelphians gave Muybridge a $5,000 grant to come to Penn to study animal locomotion. They even constructed an outdoor photography studio for him near 36th and Pine streets, where Muybridge hung white string to divide the picture frame into a grid. That way, he could easily measure the movements of his subjects.
He photographed running and leaping dogs, cats (below), birds and mules, and captured men and women jumping, ascending and descending stairs, as well as performing other athletic maneuvers such as rock throwing and somersaulting. Muybridge ended up with 781 photographs in his study, which form the bulk of the Eadweard Muybridge Collection in Penn’s University Archives.
For more information and photos on this piece of Penn history, visit the University Archives website at www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/muybridge/muybridge.html.
Originally published on October 6, 2005