See how taxidermist and inventor Carl Akeley captured the natural world. Carl Akeley—best known as “the father of modern taxidermy” and for works like the fighting African elephants in our main hall—was also a naturalist, sculptor, writer, and inventor. Recently, we added to our collections one of his most versatile inventions: the Akeley Motion Picture Camera.
From 1896 to 1909, Akeley was the Field’s Chief Taxidermist. He joined the Museum’s first two expeditions to Africa, studying animals in their natural habitats and bringing back specimens for educational display. Looking for a way to capture the natural world in motion, in 1915 he invented a portable movie camera to use on expeditions.
Learn how this device—along with Akeley's true-to-life museum displays—transformed how people saw nature.
In 1921, Akeley used his camera in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo to capture the first-ever motion pictures of gorillas in the wild. In the early 20th century, numerous expeditions set out with an Akeley camera in tow, including an expedition to Flores Island, Malaysia, where some of the earliest footage of Komodo Dragons was recorded.
Scientists and explorers used the camera to share their discoveries with the world, and because of its light weight and mobility, the United States Army used it during World War I. Hollywood, too, benefited from its design. Akeley cameras were used to film scenes for the documentary Nanook of the North (1922) in the Arctic and the war movie Wings (1927)—winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture—along with many others filmed across the globe.
On scientific expeditions, journalistic endeavors, and Hollywood location shoots, Carl Akeley’s motion picture camera was a camera of choice in the early 20th century.