History of High Speed Photography


Harold "Doc" Edgerton was a pioneer in the High Speed Photography field, and was the first photographer credited with attempting it.  Pioneering research in stroboscopic photography by Harold E. Edgerton was the foundation for the development of the modern electronic speed flash. Both the Shutter-Beam and the ADDjust A Sec were inspired by his beginning works in this field.

Born in Fremont, Nebraska, Edgerton graduated from the University of Nebraska and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined MIT as a research assistant in 1927, became a professor in 1948, and was Institute professor emeritus from 1966 until his death. 

Edgerton earned international recognition for his achievements in the related fields of stroboscopy and ultra-high speed photography. The electronic speed flash his research spurred is important to science and industry as well as routine photography. He originally perfected the use of stroboscopic lights in both ultra-high-speed motion and still (stop-motion) photography capable of revealing operations which move at speeds beyond the perceptive capacity of the human eye (i.e., bullets in flight, light bulbs shattering, etc.). 

Edgerton also made significant contributions to underwater exploration and worked aboard the ship Calypso with Jacques Cousteau and his crew in explorations of sea floors in the Mediterranean and other locations. 

Edgerton was one of the founding partners of EG&G, Inc. (formerly Edgerton, Germeshausen and Grier), a company specializing in electronic technology, and also helped organize and build the New England Aquarium in Boston. 


Professor Emeritus Harold E. "Doc" Edgerton, 86, died January 4, 1990, after suffering a heart attack at MIT. Born in Fremont, Nebraska, he graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1925 with a degree in electrical engineering. He came to MIT to complete his graduate work (SM '27, ScD '31) and joined the faculty in 1932. Professor Edgerton had been affiliated with RLE since its inception in 1946. His initial interest in stroboscopic photography stemmed from his doctoral research, and paved the way for many industrial applications, including night-time aerial and underwater photography. Collaboration with two of his students, Kenneth J. Germeshausen and Herbert E. Grier, resulted in formation of the company EG&G, which helped to develop the instrumentation and applications for high-speed strobe photography. Professor Edgerton also participated in the archaeological "photo excavation" of many historic underwater wrecks and lost cities. His work in this area led to the development of side-scan sonar technology. Professor Edgerton was the recipient of many distinguished honors and awards, the most recent being the National Geographic Society Centennial Award and the National Medal of Technology in 1988. In addition, he was a member of many organizations and professional societies.



His now famous work includes the balloon popping picture on the left as well as many others.  See the links page for other sites with his work on them.




Seen here in his lab in 1956, he inspired many to follow in his footsteps, and has forever changed the world of photography.

Have some information about Doc Edgerton I missed? Email it to me.


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