"What an extraordinary affair the 'Zoöpraxiscope' must be! (I have looked out the word, to make sure that the spelling is correct, which it was rather necessary to do, as we only heard the name in full dress, as it were, at Mr. Muybridge's lecture...."

The Critic, no. 277, p.198, 1889.

(c) Kingston Museum and Heritage Services. This photograph shows the lamphouse with the top and cowl (chimney) exhibited with the machine until the late 1990s, when it was discovered that the top and cowl belong to Muybridge's biunial magic lantern. The original top and cowl for the zoopraxiscope lantern are lost.

In Animals in Motion (1899) Muybridge's description of his picture disc production method was not quite true; he wasn't ready to give a full and honest account. But in that same publication he gave a careful and entirely accurate description of what the Zoöpraxiscope projector actually was, subtly written and demonstrating a fine command of the English language.

" is the first apparatus ever used, or constructed, for synthetically demonstrating movements analytically photographed from life, and in its resulting effects is the prototype of the various instruments which, under a variety of names, are used for a similar purpose at the present day." synthetically demonstrated movements ... photographed from life, (but not the actual photographs, even though it was capable of doing so*). In its resulting effects - animated pictures on the screen capturing the essence of life motion - it was the most important prototype of the cinematograph, (but not in its technical method). Muybridge made no claim to being first with projecting motion sequences from a disc, but was proud that his were the first to be adapted from sequence photographs.

[* One disc, of the skeleton of a horse in motion, was a true photographic image, proving that the machine was capable of projecting actual photographic sequences, which needed to be specially prepared to eliminate distortion. Apart from this one demonstration, Muybridge chose not to project actual photographs. By using graphic representations of his photographs instead, he was able to eliminate backgrounds, making possible complex combinations of sequences.]

Of course the animated discs produced very short, repeating sequences, which could be continued until the operator or lecturer decided to stop.


• Originally conceived 1879, and built by January 1880 latest.

• Technically, it is from the family of devices generically known as 'projecting phenakistiscopes'.

• From an account book, it seems that the California Electrical Works were eventually paid 477 dollars 18 cents for their work on the machine (November 1880). That would perhaps be the whole sum for its construction.

• In 1880, Stanford's lawyer Henry Beard was investigating the possibility of patenting the device.

• At this early stage, the machine was described in these documents as the Zoographiscope and Zoographyscope.

Technical details (original arrangement)

• The device used glass discs, originally 16 inches in diameter. The images were largely derived from Muybridge's sequence photographs, very skillfully transposed into painted silhouettes (later, a different production method was used for the 12-inch coloured discs.). The machine was capable of projecting sequences of original photographs, as was the case with the Skeleton Horse disc, but for several reasons Muybridge chose not to use that method for the other discs.

• Several different metal, slotted 'shutter discs' could be interchanged, depending on the picture disc being used and the effect required on the screen.

• The lamphouse was 'bought in' - i.e., it was a standard slide projection / scientific projection lantern.

• The illuminant favoured by Muybridge was oxy-hydrogen limelight, but electric illumination could be used.

• The machine was hand-cranked.

• Muybridge first used the device for private showings at the home of Governor Stanford, late in 1879 or very early 1880. It was by then known as the Zoogyroscope.

• From May 1880 Muybridge started to use the machine during his public lectures.

• From c. May 1881, the machine was known as the Zoopraxiscope.

• A special slide carrier is fitted to the lantern, enabling standard glass slides (around 3 x 4 inches) to be shown very quickly by being fed from a 'hopper'. (The device is still fitted, but the hopper, if ever used, is not). This quick-change slide device was patented by Muybridge. (Slides were also shown with a separate 'bi-unial' (double lens) projector.)

Several more silhouette 16-inch discs were produced during the 1880s.

Conversion to take smaller, coloured discs

• Some time later, most likely around 1893 or 95, the Zoopraxiscope was adapted to take 12-inch discs (possibly in addition to the original 16-inch discs. This fact has not yet been established. It is conceivable, but very unlikley, that there were two mechanisms.). These 12-inch discs were produced by a different method, and comprised outlines coloured-in.

Final presentation

• The last known presentation with the Zoopraxiscope was in Ipswich in 1895, and the discs shown were almost certainly the 16-inch silhouette image discs.

• There is no known report of a presentation with the 12-inch colour discs.

• Muybridge left the Zoopraxiscope and discs in his Will, to Kingston. The machine now resides in the Kingston Museum Muybridge Bequest Collection, together with almost 70 (of approximately 73 known worldwide) original discs.

(c) photograph.

Peta Cook, Curator Kingston Museum, supervises the packing of the original Zoopraxiscope as it leaves Kingston temporarily for Washington, March 2010. A film crew records the moment.

(c) photograph, Frances Chung, Brightest Young Things.

The Zoopraxiscope on display, Corcoran Gallery, Washington, April 2010.

Science lantern from Jack Judson Collection ©

• The black top of the lantern, and the 'cowl' - sometimes called a 'chimney' - usually shown on photographs of the Zoopraxiscope, do not belong. (These are is fact part of Muybridge' s other projection machine, the bi-unial slide lantern.) The correct type of cowl was most likely similar to that shown on the science lantern illustrated above, which is in Jack Judson's Magic Lantern Castle.

• Several replica Zoopraxiscopes have been made.

National Media Museum. Clipping on right from The Times, 13 November 1948, p.8

1) Science Museum, London (1940s). Currently (2009) at National Media Museum, Bradford.
The most faithful replica.

12 November 1948, p.2. Text (c) The Times, reproduced for purposes of review.

[image to follow]
2) British Airways aircraft apprentices, Kingston. (c.1980s). Possibly three built.
a. Used at the now closed Museum of the Moving Image, London, UK.
b. Now at Kingston Museum, UK.
c. Not known ( the mechanism without lamphouse possibly at Kingston Museum)
Working replicas. Somewhat simplified, and materials used not authentic - but the important mechanical design accurate and the result on screen correct.

[image to follow]
3) George Eastman House, Rochester, USA.
Looks very different from the original, but principle is the same. (Possibly the model described in The Machine: as seen at the end of the mechanical age (1968) as "...Reconstruction by Robert A. Fox, 1962." ?)

[image to follow]
4) Stanford University, USA (1972) Replica, using some components believed to have belonged to Muybridge. (Photo: Time Stands Still, by Phillip Prodger, p. 155.)

There may be others.

More about the Zoopraxiscope HERE

More about the Zoopraxiscope Discs HERE

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