The genetic basis of most conditions characterized by congenital contractures is largely unknown. Here we show that mutations in the embryonic myosin heavy chain (MYH3) gene cause Freeman-Sheldon syndrome (FSS), one of the most severe multiple congenital contracture (that is, arthrogryposis) syndromes, and nearly one-third of all cases of Sheldon-Hall syndrome (SHS), the most common distal arthrogryposis. FSS and SHS mutations affect different myosin residues, demonstrating that MYH3 genotype is predictive of phenotype. A structure-function analysis shows that nearly all of the MYH3 mutations are predicted to interfere with myosin's catalytic activity. These results add to the growing body of evidence showing that congenital contractures are a shared outcome of prenatal defects in myofiber force production. Elucidation of the genetic basis of these syndromes redefines congenital contractures as unique defects of the sarcomere and provides insights about what has heretofore been a poorly understood group of disorders.