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Harold Edgerton

1903 Fremont, Nebraska
1990 Cambridge

Harold Eugene Edgerton, born in Fremont, Nebraska, on April 6, 1903, was the inventor of stroboscopic photography. Beginning in 1921, he studied electric engineering at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, later at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. There he worked as an assistant in 1927 and from 1928-68 as a professor. Edgerton’s uncle taught him the basics of photography when he was 15.
In his research at the university, Harold Edgerton used a stroboscope – the amateur photographer used it in 1931 for his invention: with the help of a stroboscopic flash, he succeeded in creating several exposures in a photograph within one second in a dark room. In so doing, Edgerton was almost able to hold time still, and it became possible to capture glimpses of the middle of movements that the human eye normally cannot perceive because of the high speed. Famous examples are the falling "Milchspritzer" (1936, Milk Spatter) in the moment of explosion, "Tennisspieler" (1938, Tennis Player) at the serve or the photo of an apple shot through by the bullet of a pistol (1950).
In 1938-40, Harold Edgerton improved his invention further and tried in vain to find industrial purchasers for it. It was eventually used above all in sports photography. Stroboscopic photography enabled new, revolutionary pictures in the process of movement. Harold Edgerton published his photographs in 1939 under the title "Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High Speed Photography". During the war, he worked for MGM Studios, Hollywood and the US Air Force as a technical consultant.
After the end of the war, he made himself independent by means of his own company and produced photographs of animals for National Geographic (for example, "Hummingbirds in Action"). In particular, he participated in the 1950’s through the 1970’s in several archaeological and oceanographic research expeditions. In the latter, his underwater camera, developed in 1953, was used.
Harold Edgerton received numerous awards for his invention, and in 1995, the Harold E. Edgerton Educational Center in Cambridge was established posthumously.
He died in Cambridge on January 4, 1990.

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