Eadweard Muybridge was hired by the former governor of California, Leland Stanford, to answer the question. From 1877-79, Muybridge took a series of photographs of the horse “Oxident” at Stanford’s farm at Palo Alto. He set up a camera shed with 12 (later 24) cameras, each with shutters attached to threads. When a horse broke a thread as it passed in front of the camera, the shutter dropped and an instant exposure was taken. One of those stills clearly showed the horse with all four legs off the ground. But Muybrdge wanted to find a way to display the horse in motion.
In 1879, Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope – the forerunner to the motion picture projector.
The Zoopraxiscope was initially called the Zoogyroscope. Perhaps, Zoogyroscope was too difficult to pronounce or didn’t have quite the right ring. So, Muybridge dubbed his device the Zoopraxiscope. Either way, this was actually an enhancement of old Phenakistiscope or ‘spinning picture disc’ invented in the 1830s.
Muybridge’s machine had a spinning 16-inch glass disc with images of the galloping horse on the disc.
Muybridge debuted his Zoopraxiscope projections at Mayfield Grange, the stud farm and home of former Calif. Gov. Stanford in Palo Alto in the autumn of 1879. It is, according to the Kingston Museum (in England, where Muybridge was born) “one of the earliest motion picture audiences (where photography was the original method of capturing, in real time, the movement shown in the drawings).” All of the zoopraxiscope glass discs in Muybridge’s possession at the time of his death in 1904 were bequeathed to Kingston Museum.