Photo-Finish

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Today it’s standard practice for a photograph to be taken at the end of a horse race showing the exact positions of the horses as they cross the finish line. In the 1880s, this technology was in its infancy and this photograph showing the conclusion of the 1889 Charter Oak stakes at Charter Oak Park in West Hartford, Connecticut, is among the earliest ever taken. The very first photograph of the finish of a horse race was taken in 1881 in Plainfield, New Jersey, but the practice would not become commonplace until the middle of the twentieth century.  We don’t know who took this picture of the gray stallion Alcryon beating out the great trotting mare Geneva S. and the favorite Nelson on August 28, 1889, but he was definitely ahead of his time.  A handful of other photographs of harness races at Charter Oak Park may be found in Connecticut History Online, a collaborative digital library of historic visual resources.

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3 thoughts on “Photo-Finish

    • There doesn’t seem to be a lot of documentation for shutter speeds during this period. Eadweard Muybridge (who did not take this photograph but who was interested in stop-motion photography) had a camera with a shutter speed of 1/1000 as early as 1878. Whoever took this photograph must also have had a camera with a pretty fast shutter speed.

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