Thursday, March 9, 2017

Born Today March 9: Leland Stanford


Amasa Leland Stanford was born on the day in Watervliet, New York (the town is now known as Colonie); he was one of eight children.  His father was a well off farmer and several of his brothers went on to become successful, even famous, in their own rights.  He would go on in life to be a general renaissance man: an industrialist, railroad executive, politician, winery owner, and co-founder of Stanford University.  He was also the founder of the Pacific Life insurance company.  He got his start, when he migrated out to California during the Gold Rush there; but instead of getting directly into mining, he set up shop as a merchant and grew his business into a wholesale company.  He served a term as California governor and eventually became the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and later Central Pacific railroad.  He is considered today to have been a robber baron.  As railroad president, he was wont to throw his weight around in the region, and not always to the good of anyone but Stanford and his family.  The reason for his inclusion here is his unique place in the history of earliest cinema.  He owned a huge horse ranch in Santa Clara County in California.  He had interest in horse movement and hired photographer Eadweard Muybridge to set up a series of cameras at the track that he had built at his Palo Alto Stock Farm.  All of his horses were trained to race as trotters, and he was interested in whether it could be proven that horses, at full gallop ever had all four legs off the ground at once.  Muybridge set up a series of cameras inside the track and every few feet, trip wires would set off a different camera.  What resulted was what is known as "series photography."  Using a simple "flip method"--as with animation--the photographs could show movement of the animal and rider.  The result was a film called Sallie Gardner At A Gallop (the horse's name being in the title).  This dates from the year 1878, and was previously (and erroneously) listed as being the very first motion picture. Because it was Stanford's scheme, and he hired Muybridge, he is given a producer credit on the film.  Standford had long suffered from Locomotor Ataxia, which caused him to rely heavily on a cane to walk.  The condition probably, over time, affected his heart muscle and he died of heart failure at the age of 63 on the 21st of June 1893 in Palo Alto; he is buried in the family mausoleum on the Stanford campus.

The exterior of the mausoleum

Interior showing Stanford's tomb

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