Harold Eugene Edgerton - BIOGRAPHY

1903

Harold Eugene Edgerton born April 6th in Fremont, Nebraska. Son of Mary Nettie (Coe) and Frank Eugene Edgerton first of three children. Over the next dozen years the Edgerton family moved a total of four times, finally settling in Aurora, Nebraska.
 

1915-21

Attends junior and senior high school in Aurora. Learns photography from an uncle and sets up a dark room in his home.
 

1920-25

Works summers at the Nebraska Power and Light Company. Develops an interest in electrical generation and in 1921 enrolls at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
 

1925

Receives B.S. in electrical engineering from UNL.
 

1925-26

Works for another electric company this time in Schenectady, New York. Again continues his study on the turbines that produce electrical generation.
 

1926

Enters the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In his graduate studies uses the strobe light to study whirling rotor engines.  By controlling the frequency of strobe flashes synchronized with the spinning rotors, he is able to see rotors clearly.
 

1927

Receives M.S. in electrical engineering from MIT. From this time forward he becomes a faculty member at the Institute.
 

1928

Marries Esther May Garrett also a Nebraska native. They have three children: Mary (b. 1931), William (b.1933), Robert (b.1935).
 

1931

Develops and perfects the stroboscope for use in both ultra-high-speed and still (or stop-motion) photography. This discovery is announced in the May issue of Electrical Engineering.  Forms partnership with former student Kenneth J. Germeshausen, an MIT research affiliate, to develop the stroboscope for various applications.  Receives D. Sc. in electrical engineering from MIT.
 

1932

Begins taking high-speed photographs of familiar activities that move at speeds beyond the ability of the human eye to perceive. The photographs appear in both popular and technical publications.
 

1933

Applies for U.S. patents for the stroboscope. Over the next thirty-five years applies for 45 patents. Three of his photographs are included in a display in the Royal Photographic Society's annual exhibition in London.
This is the first time Edgerton's work is exhibited.
 

1934

Herbert E. Grier, another former student of Edgerton's, joins the partnership of Edgerton and Germeshausen. They continue to develop ultra-high-speed photography, and unique stroboscopic effects. Ten of Edgerton's high-speed photographs are included in the Royal Photographic Society's annual exhibition. Edgerton, Germeshausen and Grier are awarded the society's Bronze Medal. Edgerton's first photography award.
 

1937

Begins life long association with Life magazine photographer, and fellow MIT electrical engineering graduate Gjon Mili.  The Photograph "Coronet", taken by Edgerton, is chosen by Beaumont Newhall for inclusion in the first photographic exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
 

1938

Perfects multiflash photography of athletes in action. Unsuccessfully attempts to sell the concept of electronic flash to major U.S. camera manufacturers. Contacts sports photographers and offers them his services and equipment. By 1940, sports photography is revolutionized by Edgerton's technique, which allows the camera to capture high-speed motion and preserve an unprecedented degree of detail. Electronic flash photographs of sports events are regularly published in major newspapers after 1940.

1939

The U.S. Army Air Force commissions Edgerton to design a strobe lamp powerful enough to be used for aerial photography at night.

First book, "Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High Speed Photography," co-authored with James R. Killian, Jr., is published to critical acclaim. E.F. Hall, reviewing Flash! in the New York Times, says, "This whole book....covering the fields of nature, sport, and industry, is a compilation of magic and of things undreamed, calculated to excite the most sluggish mind."

1940

Works at MGM Studios in Hollywood, demonstrating how to use high-speed photography to make movies. He collaberates with Pete Smith on the Academy Award-winning film short, Quicker Than a Wink.

1944

Serves in Italy, England, and France as a technical representative for the US Army Air Force. Directs use of the strobes for nighttime aerial reconnaissance photography, providing vital intelligence information about troop movements in enemy territory. They are used in the nights immediately preceding the D-day invasion of Normandy, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, and in campaigns in the Far East.

1946

Receives the medal of Freedom from the War Department in recognition of his achievements in developing nighttime aerial photography during the Second World War.

1947

With partners Germeshausen and Grier, forms Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier, Inc. (now EG&G, Inc.), a company specializing in electronic technology. As prime contractors for the Atomic Energy Commission, they design and operate systems that time and fire US nuclear bomb tests. Edgerton and colleagues will invent a camera (the Rapatronic) capable of photographing nuclear explosions from a distance of seven miles.

The first of his many articles for National Geographic magazine is published. "Hummingbirds in Action" contains high-speed photographs that illustrate for the first time the wing movement and flight patterns of these tiny birds.

1953

Begins long association with French underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, accompanying him on numerous expeditions aboard the research vessel Calypso. They explore and photograph sea floors from the Mediterranean to Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains. To position underwater cameras on these expeditions, Edgerton designs a "pinger" device that attached to a submerged camera. Sound waves, emitted from the pinger and returning as echoes from the ocean floor, indicate how close the camera is to the bottom. On these expeditions, Edgerton also experiments with the side-scan sonar, an acoustic device used to locate objects lying on the ocean floor.

1960

Aboard the research vessel Chain of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, accompanies expedition to Puerto Rico to photograph the ocean floor. Using his new sonar "thumper," a device capable of subbottom penetration of the sea floor, Edgerton and colleagues locate rocks thought to be the first specimens ever obtained from the deepest layer of the earth's crust.

1961

Designs the "boomer," a sonar device useful for continuous seismic profiling of the bottom of the sea.

1964

With colleagues at MIT, develops technique, using stroboscopic lighting and special cameras, for taking motion pictures of the blood flow in the capillaries of humans.

1966

With Greek archaeologists, goes on first of several sonar expeditions in search of ancient Helice in the Gulf of Corinth, a city submerged by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in about 373 BC.

Receives appointment as Institute Professor at MIT, an honor awarded to distinguished faculty members upon nomination by their colleagues on the faculty.

1968

Using his penetrating sonar, locates the Mary Rose, an English warship sunk during the reign of Henry VIII.

With colleagues, designs an elapsed-time photographic system capable of photographing underwater events, using strobe lights for illumination. This system makes possible the observation of underwater events normally too slow to be seen, such as the movement of sand dollars or sea urchins.

1973

Using side-scan sonar, Edgerton and colleagues locate the sunken Civil War battleship USS Monitor, lost since 1862, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The battleship lies upside down in 220 feet of water.

With eighty other scientists, goes to Akjoujt in Mauritania to record changes in light and color during one of the longest solar eclipses (some seven minutes) in this century.

Receives the US national Medal of Science, awarded by President Richard M. Nixon at the White House.

To honor Harold and Esther Edgerton for many years of hospitality and encouragement to the students and faculty, the MIT Corporation establishes the Edgerton Fund to support younger faculty and student research at MIT.

1975

Ends association with EG&G, Inc., and becomes emeritus chairman of the board.

1976

Permanent display of camera strobe equipment and photographs is installed at the Plainsman Museum in Aurora, Nebraska.

1977

Dedication of the MIT Sea Grant research vessel Edgerton, a seagoing laboratory and classroom.

1982

Named "New England Inventor of the Year" by MIT, the Boston patent Law Association, and the Museum of Science in Boston. Citation reads: "He has pressed back the frontiers of our knowledge of vision and motion with his stroboscopic photography, and, through his marvelous medium, he has captured and revealed new beauty and order in both nature and industry."

1983

MIT dedicates "Strobe Alley" an eighty-foot corridor museum at MIT of Edgerton's photographs and equipment, as well as artifacts recovered on voyages.

Dedication of the EG&G Education Center at MIT, a teaching and conference facility built with gifts from Edgerton, Germeshausen, Grier, and EG&G,Inc.

1985

Accompanies Cousteau aboard Calypso on expedition off Matanzas Harbor, near Havana, Cuba, in search of Spanish wrecks.

The PBS Nova series airs "Edgerton and His Incredible Seeing Machines," a program based on a film originally produced by Nebraska Educational Television that explores the career and inventions of Edgerton and documents the development of stroboscopic photography.

1986

Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, for the invention and application of the modern stroboscope to science, industry and the arts.

The Edgerton-Benthos underwater camera is used to photograph the sunken RMS Titanic, discovered off the coast of Nova Scotia during the summer.

1990

On January 4th after paying for his lunch at the MIT Faculty Club, he succumbs to a heart attack. He was 86.

Several businessmen meet in Aurora, NE and decide how to honor Harold E. Edgerton.

1995

Foundation is laid for the Harold E. Edgerton Educational Center.

On September 7, Esther Edgerton's birthday, EEC celebrates their grand opening with fun-filled festivities.

1996

Edgerton Educational Center becomes Edgerton Explorit Center. (Nebraska's Hands-On Science Center.)