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HomeContentsThemes > Dry plates


820.01   Packaging for dry plates
820.02   Dry plates
820.03   Instantaneous photography - The exploding mule (6 June 1881)
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated.
820.01   Supply houses and supplies >  Packaging for dry plates 
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820.02   Supply houses and supplies >  Dry plates 
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820.03   Supply houses and supplies >  Instantaneous photography - The exploding mule (6 June 1881) 
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In a hopefully more humane age it seems extraordinary that an explosive charge would be used to decapitate a mule to test a photographic product - in this case a 10 by 12 gelatino-bromide instantaneous Eastman dry plate. The following contemporary account in the The American Architect and Building News (1881) provides the context.
An Absolutely Instantaneous Photograph. The Manufacturer's Gazette makes itself responsible for this the most amusing, but not improbable, mule story on record. There is on exhibition in New York a photograph taken by an army officer with Anthony's instantaneous collodion. An old army mule, condemned to death, was killed by a small charge of dynamite placed on his neck and exploded by electricity. The picture represents the mule standing with his head entirely blown off, and the rope with which he was tied to a short stake in the ground in the same position that it was in when tied to his head, as it had not time to fall to the ground. The slide of the camera was dropped by the same charge of electricity that exploded the dynamite.[1]
The official report is included in the Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Year 1882:
From: Eugene Griffin, First Lieutenant of Engineers, Willets Point, New York Harbor
To: Lieut. Col. H.L. Abbott, Corps of Engineers, Commanding Engineer School of Application
Date: June 27, 1882
On the 6th of June, 1881, an instantaneous view was taken, by your direction, of the execution of a condemned mule belonging to the Engineer Department. A small bag containing 6 ounces of dynamite and a fuse was fastened on the mule's forehead, the wires from the fuse connecting with a magneto-electric machine. The camera was placed at a distance of about 47 feet from the mule and properly focussed; the drop shutter was held up by a string, fastened to another fuse, which was placed in the same circuit with the first, so that both were fired simultaneously and the shutter allowed to drop. The result was a negative showing the mule in an upright position, but with his head blown off. This photograph has excited much interest and comment in the scientific world. A very narrow slit was used in the shutter, and as nearly as can be estimated the time of exposure was about 1/750 of a second. A 10 by 12 gelatino-bromide instantaneous Eastman dry plate was used, with a 4 D Dallmeyer lens, using the full opening.[2]

  1. Λ 20 August 1881, "An Absolutely Instantaneous Photograph", The American Architect and Building News, vol. X, p. 91 
  2. Λ Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Year 1882 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), vol. II, part 1, p. 448

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