In 1881, Engineers Blew Up A Mule For "Science"

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There is a messed-up picture behind this cut, and it was taken all the way back in 1881. Photography had finally gotten good enough to take instantaneous photos, and it took people no time at all to decide to blow something up and film it.

Why? Apparently, establishing what happens at the instant a mule gets its head blown off is important information to submarine engineers. I don't know why it's important, but I can only assume it's crucial, because as soon as they got the technology to do it, a First Lieutenant of the United States School of Submarine Engineers wrote to his superior, "On the 6th of June, 1881, an instantaneous view was taken, by your direction, of the execution of a condemned mule belonging to the Engineer Department." [Emphasis most assuredly mine.]

A photographer, Mr Van Sothen, brought an instantaneous camera to the party. Camera technology had at last stopped the need for people to sit still for minutes at a time in order to have their photographs taken. As for making sure the timing was right, the engineers worked out a device that, when triggered, activated both the camera shutter and a few ounces of dynamite strapped to the mule's head. And article in that year's September issue of Scientific Americanexplained that the mule was old and scheduled to die, anyway. So that was okay.


As you can see, the death was, at least, quick. The mule has since gained great fame; if only it were that easy these days. Still, it's difficult to imagine what great new scientific truths anyone learned from this little adventure, especially for submariners.


Top Image: Dario Sanches.