Akeley, Carl Ethan, 1864-1926

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1864 May 19 - 1926 November 17

Biographical or Historical Note

abstract
Carl Ethan Akeley (born May 19, 1864, Clarendon, New York— died November 17, 1926, Belgian Congo, Africa), taxidermist, sculptor, inventor, explorer, and naturalist, who led five expeditions to Africa, three of which for the Museum of Natural History where he gathered specimens for his African Hall Exhibition. He is the author of the book In Brightest Africa.

Carl Ethan Akeley was born May 19, 1864 in Clarendon, New York, to Daniel and Julia Akeley. He was a taxidermist, sculptor, inventor, explorer, and naturalist. He began working for the American Museum of Natural History in 1909 and led three expeditions to Africa for the museum. In 1912, Akeley came up with the idea for the African Hall and spent his last two expeditions gathering specimens for this exhibition.

Akeley grew up on a farm in Clarendon where he attended Country School and then State Normal School in Brockport, New York. In 1882, Akeley apprenticed at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment. After taking a break to work in the shop of John Wallace for six months in 1883, Akeley returned to Ward’s where he remained for three more years, studying to meet the requirements to attend the Sheffield Scientific Institution. Akeley, overwhelmed by both work and study, however, became unable to take his examinations. However, he was approached by William Morton Wheeler, who was teaching at the Milwaukee High School, who offered to help him if he'd move west (1).

Therefore, by November 1866, Akeley was living in Milwaukee and working for the Milwaukee museum, while continuing his studies. In 1889, Akeley was listed as the taxidermist at the Public Museum in Milwaukee. Akeley lived in Milwaukee for eight years, working both for the museum and in his own shop until he was, by chance, offered a taxidermy contract by the Field Museum in Chicago after stopping there on his way to London in 1895. Akeley accepted the contracts and in 1896, he was invited by Daniel Giraud Elliot of the museum to accompany him to Africa, thus marking Akeley’s first expedition. Akeley would join Elliot for another expedition in 1898, this time to the Olympia mountains in Washington for three months to collect mammals for the Field Museum (1).

Akeley’s second expedition to Africa (1905-1906) was also for the Chicago Field Museum, wherein he secured specimens for the elephant group. Akeley worked on the elephant group until his departure from the museum. In 1909, he began working at the American Museum of Natural History and soon embarked on his third expedition to Africa, collecting large game and in particular elephants. Akeley returned home in 1911, after getting mauled by an elephant, and proposed the idea of the African Hall exhibition to the museum which was immediately approved but soon put on hold due to the war (1).

Akeley turned his efforts to the war, inventing items such as the cement gun while also working on his idea for a new motion picture camera, which he patented in 1915 (3). Akeley was the recipient of numerous accolades for these efforts, including the John Scott legacy medal and premium award by the Franklin Institute’s Committee of Science and Arts (1). By 1921, Akeley returned to African for his fourth expedition. His focus was completely on African Hall by this point, funding half the expense of the expedition himself (2). During this expedition Akeley visited Gorilla Mountain in Kivu District, Belgian Congo. He only spent three weeks with Gorillas but it left him thinking about plans for a Gorilla sanctuary (2). Akeley put this idea into motion by gathering up suggestions for a sanctuary and contacting his friend at the Carnegie Institution. In 1923, Akeley published In Brightest Africa, an account of his experiences in Africa thus far. By 1924, Akeley finished mounting the gorilla group for the African Hall exhibition and by 1925 his efforts for the sanctuary paid off: King Albert created by Royal Decree the Parc National Albert in the Kivu District of Belgian Congo, making it the first ever African National park. In 1926, Akeley embarked on what would be his last journey to Africa. Founded by George Eastman and Daniel Pomeroy, Akeley set sail with his wife Mary to Africa in the spring of 1926, with the intention to complete the final seven groups needed for the African Hall exhibition (2).

Akeley was married twice, first to Delia J. Denning Reiss from December 23, 1902 until their divorce in 1923 and then to Mary L. Jobe from October 18, 1924 until his death in 1926. Both wives were explorers themselves and accompanied Akeley on his expeditions. He had no children. Akeley died of a fever on November 17, 1926, in the Kivu mountains of the Belgian Congo, while on his fifth expedition to Africa. He was survived by his wife, Mary Jobe Akeley, who continued his work long after his death.

Sources

    (1) Akeley, Mary L. Jobe (Mary Lenore Jobe), 1878-1966. Mary Jobe Akeley papers, 1977 Accession. Box 1, Folder 4.
    (2) Mary L. Jobe Akeley, F.R.G.S. 1929. Carl Akeley's Africa; the account of the Akeley-Eastman-Pomeroy African Hall Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Company.
    (3) Avley, Mark. Motion pictures as taxidermy: Carl Akeley and his camera. In the field: the bulletin for the Field Museum of Natural History. v.71 (2000).
    (4) American Museum of Natural History. AMNH Expedition Names Master spreadsheet (abridged headings).
    Library Name Authority File: n85064857

Chronology

  • 1876: Mounted first bird at approximately 12 years old (1), ClarendonExternal link.
  • 1877: 13 years old. Borrowed a book on taxidermy and took painting lessons in Holley to make backgrounds (1), ClarendonExternal link.
  • 1882 - 1883: Began apprenticeship at Ward's Natural Science Establishment, RochesterExternal link.
  • 1883: Intermission from Ward's where he worked for six months in the shop of John Wallace in New York City (1), New YorkExternal link.
  • January 1884: Returned to Ward’s Natural Science Establishment where he remained for three years (1), RochesterExternal link.
  • November 08, 1886: Arrived in Milwaukee and worked for Milwaukee museum (1), MilwaukeeExternal link.
  • October 01, 1889: Listed as taxidermist for the Public Museum (1), MilwaukeeExternal link.
  • 1895: Given taxidermy contracts at the Field Museum in Chicago (1) , ChicagoExternal link.
  • 1896: Approximately 1896, named head of Taxidermy Dept at Field Museum (1), ChicagoExternal link.
  • February 28, 1896: Accompanied Daniel Giraud Elliot of Chicago Field Museum to British Somaliland to make collections on thirteen species in British Somaliland for the museum's African Hall (2), SoomaaliyaExternal link.
  • December 23, 1902: Married Delia J. Denning Reiss (1), MilwaukeeExternal link.
  • 1905 - 1906: Led expedition to British East Africa for Field Museum to secure specimens for elephant group for Field Museum (2), KenyaExternal link.
  • 1907 - 1908: Worked on elephant group for Field museum (1), ChicagoExternal link.
  • 1909: Began working for American Museum of Natural History (1), New YorkExternal link.
  • 1909 - 1911: Third African expedition. Sailed to Nairobi in August 1909 to collect elephants for American Museum of Natural History. Mauled by elephant in 1910. Returned home in 1911 after being injured, presented idea for African Hall which was immediately approved (2), NairobiExternal link.
  • 1914: Construction to begin on African Hall at AMNH but war put things on hold. Akeley began focusing efforts on war (2), New YorkExternal link.
  • 1915: Akeley Motion Picture Camera is patented (3), New YorkExternal link.
  • February 02, 1916: Akeley awarded John Scott legacy medal and premium by the Franklin Institute's Committee of Science and Arts for the cement gun he invented for the war (1), PhiladelphiaExternal link.
  • April 12, 1916: Akeley elected to non-resident membership at the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania to promote mechanic arts (1), PhiladelphiaExternal link.
  • 1921: Met Martin Johnson through the Explorers Club (2)
  • 1921 - 1922: Led Congo Expedition for American Museum of Natural History, funding half the expenses himself. Gathered mountain gorillas from the Kivu District of the Belgian Congo to add to African Hall (2), Nord-KivuExternal link.
  • 1922: Began thinking about plans for a gorilla sanctuary on journey home from Africa (2)
  • 1923: Akeley compiled suggestions of sanctuary and submitted to friend Dr. John C. Merriam of Carnegie Institution (1), New YorkExternal link.
  • 1924: Finished mounting gorilla group for African Hall (1), New York External link.
  • October 18, 1924: Married Mary L. Jobe (1), New York External link.
  • 1925: In the Spring of 1925, George Eastman contacts Akeley, wanting to go on a hunting trip. Akeley says okay as long as he helps finance African Hall. The plan is set for the following May (2)
  • March 1925: King Albert created by Royal Decree the Parc National Albert in the Kivu District, Belgian Congo (2), Virunga National Park (national park) External link.
  • March 1926: Fifth African Expedition begins with Akeley and Mary leaving New York (2), New YorkExternal link.
  • April 07, 1926: April 7 1926 – Awarded Joh Price Medal awarded to Akely by Franklin Institute for important improvements in motion picture cameras for wild animal life, PhiladelphiaExternal link.
  • November 14, 1926: Akeley dies from illness after being sick for days with a fever whilst at the Rwevu camp site in the Kivu district. He is buried in the Belgian Congo, on the slopes of Mount Mikeno, near the main location of his Gorilla Expedition in 1921-1922, Nord-KivuExternal link.
  • April 1927: approximately 1927 April. King Albert bestows royal decoration honor to Akeley for his work in Congo as well as Mary's completion of his expedition, BruxellesExternal link.

Terms

localDescription
enhanced
localDescription
affiliated person
place
AfricaExternal link
(Expedition Site)

Participant in five expeditions to African, including three he led for the American Museum of Natural History.

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

participantIn
Akeley African Expedition to the Belgian Congo of the American Museum of Natural History (1921-1922)
associated dates: 1921-1922

Led expedition for American Museum of Natural History to collect gorillas for African Hall Exhibition and study their habitat (4).
participantIn
Akeley Expedition to British East Africa
associated dates: 1909-1911

Led expedition for American Museum of Natural History, to collect large game, especially elephants, for the museum, as well as record photographically the flora, fauna and inhabitants (4).
participantIn
Akeley-Eastman-Pomeroy African Hall Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History (1926)
To collect animals for new groups in the African Hall (4).
American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History. Akeley Hall of African Mammals.
participantIn
Elliot expedition to British Somaliland
Accompanied Daniel Giraud Elliot to make collections on thirteen species in British Somaliland for African Hall in Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (1).
participantIn
Expedition to British East Africa
Second African expedition. Traveled to British East Africa. Secured specimens for elephant group for Field Museum (2).
participantIn
Expedition to Olympic Mountains
Went with Elliot to Olympian mountains in Washington to gather mammals. Gone three months (1).

Related Resources

subjectOf
Mary Jobe Akeley papers, 1859-1940.
associated dates: 1859-1940

Creator: Akeley, Mary L. Jobe (Mary Lenore Jobe), 1878-1966. Extent: 25 boxes (11.25 linear feet) 5 printing plates Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Mss .A342-.A344
creatorOf
Akeley, Carl Ethan. 1923. In Brightest Africa. Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, Page.
Creator: Akeley, Carl Ethan. Extent: One book, AMNH Library's copy has 1924 printing date on t.p. Note: "Illustrated from photographs." Repository: AMNH Main Stacks DT425 .A343 1923
subjectOf
Mary L. Jobe Akeley, F.R.G.S. 1929. Carl Akeley's Africa; the account of the Akeley-Eastman-Pomeroy African Hall Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Company.
Creator: Akeley, Mary L. Jobe. Extent: One book, xix, 321 p. front., plates (1 double) ports., maps. 25 cm. Note: Maps on lining-papers. Part of the plates printed on one side of leaf only. Repository: AMNH Main Stacks, SK251 .A35 1932
creatorOf
Akeley, Carl Ethan. 1932. Lions, gorillas and their neighbors, by Carl and Mary L. Jobe Akeley. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.
Creator: Akeley, Carl Ethan. Extent: One book Note: Mary L. Jobe Akeley has here assembled narratives which her husband delighted to relate and others complied from his field notes, and added chapters recounting joint adventures and a few of her own experiences. Repository: AMNH Main Stacks, SK251 .A35 1932
subjectOf
Kirk, Jay. 2010. Kingdom under glass : a tale of obsession, adventure, and one man's quest to preserve the world's great animals. New York : H. Holt.
Creator: Kirk, Jay. Extent: One book, 387 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Repository: AMNH Main Stacks, QL31.A5 K57 2010
creatorOf
Akeley, Carl Ethan. 1920. The autobiography of a taxidermist by Carl E. Akeley. [New York : Doubleday, Page & Co.].
Creator: Akeley, Carl Ethan. Extent: One book, p. 177-195 : ill. ; 26 cm. Repository: AMNH Main Stacks, QL31.A5 A24 1920
subjectOf
Bodry-Sanders, Penelope. 1988. African obsession : the life and legacy of Carl Akeley. Jacksonville, FL : Batax Museum Pub.
Creator: Bodry-Sanders, Penelope. Extent: One book, xxii, 298 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 23 cm. Note: Rev. ed. of: Carl Akeley: Africa's collector, Africa's savior. New York : Paragon House. 1991. AMNH Library's copy is signed by the author. Repository: AMNH Main stacks, QL31.A5 B63 1998
subjectOf
Fletcher, Kathryn Huber. [1937?]. A bibliography of works written by and about Carl Ethan Akeley (1864-1926).
Creator: Fletcher, Kathryn Huber. Extent: 34 leaves ; 28 cm. Notes: Typescript. Separate publications by Carl Akeley -- Periodical articles and essays by Carl Akeley -- Studies and notes about Carl Akeley. Repository: AMNH Rare Book Collection, 65-B
subjectOf
American Museum of Natural History. Photo Studio. Akeley Memorial Hall of African Mammals photographic slides, 1949, 1974, undated.
associated dates: 1949, 1974

Creator: American Museum of Natural History. Photo Studio. Extent: 1 box (0.25 linear feet) ca. 200 slides Repository: AMNH Special Collections, PSC 25
subjectOf
The Field Museum. Carl Akeley Photo Collection.
associated dates: 1896-1909

Creator: The Field Museum Extent: Photographs Repository: The Field Museum, archives
creatorOf
Meandering in Africa [videorecording.] New York: American Museum of Natural History. 1921-1922.
associated dates: 1921-1922

Creator: American Museum of Natural History Extent: 1 1 videocassette (40 min.) : si., b&w ; 3/4 in. Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Film Collection no. 209
creatorOf
Akeley Expedition to British East Africa (1909-1911). Field photographs of the Akeley Expedition to British East Africa, 1909-1911.
associated dates: 1909-1911

Creator: Akeley Expedition to British East Africa (1909-1911) Extent: 1425 items. Photographs mounted on file cards: 1425 items : photoprints, b&w ; 3 x 5 cm. Photographs: 1339 items : glass photonegatives, b&w ; 4 x 6 cm. Photographs: 24 items : b&w photonegatives ; 3 x 5 cm. Repository: AMNH Special Collections

Written by: Sarah Cassone
Last modified: 2019 August 7


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