menu-home menu-films menu-people menu-oral-history menu-education menu-events menu-about
Corner Image
WildFilmHistory logo
WildFilmHistory » Home » People » Carl Akeley

Carl Akeley 

Martin Johnson and Carl Akeley's camera cars meet in Tanganyika, during filming for Simba

A man of many talents, Carl Akeley was a prolific taxidermist, sculptor, explorer and inventor. Born in 1864 Carl grew up on a farm and took an early interest in ornithology. After borrowing a book on the subject Carl proceeded to teach himself the basics of taxidermy and, on the advice the local specialist, applied to Wards Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York.

After several years at the establishment, Carl left to further his education, financing his study by accepting a position at the Milwaukee Public Museum (1887-1895). Here Carl continued to experiment with more modern approaches to taxidermy, perfecting his techniques that were one day to revolutionise the industry. Hearing of his achievements the British Museum in London offered him a position, but on his way, he stopped in Chicago where he was enticed to join their Field Museum of Natural History instead. Winning Carl over by the promise of African travel, he led two major expeditions while in their employment, the first in 1896 and later in 1905.

In total, Carl launched five collecting trips to the African subcontinent, joining Theodore Roosevelt on his 1909 expedition while he was working for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Filmed by Cherry Kearton for the feature, With Roosevelt in Africa (1910) it also provided many specimens still on display in the museum in a wing named in Carl's honour – the Akeley Hall of African Mammals.

Known for his innovative ideas, he invented the cement spray gun, a powerful searchlight used by the US Army in the First World War and the first rotary motion-picture camera. The Akeley camera was patented in 1916 and designed by Carl expressly for his wildlife work, proved hugely popular with other naturalists of the day. It was used by Robert Flaherty in 1922 to shoot his popular picture Nanook of the North and was still being produced in the 1940s.

His camera was used to capture the first footage of wild mountain gorillas and as an ardent conservationist, he persuaded King Albert of Belgium to form a National Park in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to help protect the species.

Carl Akeley died of fever in the Congo in 1926.

WildFilmHistory Films

film-smallSimba: The King of the Beasts (1928)Production 
Martin Johnson and Carl Akeley's camera cars meet in Tanganyika, during filming for Simba
Martin Johnson and Carl Akeley's camera cars...