"Pancake" Camera that Changed Film and Natural History

To explore Carl Akeley’s contributions to natural history and beyond, the Field Museum is opening a new exhibition, Mr. Akeley’s Movie Camera.

Carl Akeley was a larger-than-life explorer, artist, and conservationist—he fought off a leopard with his bare hands and survived getting trampled by an elephant.  “This exhibition provides a fascinating peek into the life and pursuits of this workaholic genius and the role he played in teaching the world about nature,” says Mark Alvey, the Field Museum’s content advisor for the exhibition. “The movie camera Akeley invented to film animals in the wild turned out to be one of his most important contributions to science, and to how we all see and understand the natural world.”

The newly-developed camera was portable, rotatable, and easy to maneuver—the GoPro of the early 1900s. In an unexpected turn of events, the camera was used by the military for aerial reconnaissance during World War I. After the military gave up exclusive rights, newsreel companies and the film industry in Hollywood picked up the technology and used it to film action sequences and aerial footage in early blockbusters.

The exhibition features a pristine example of an original Akeley motion picture camera on its tripod, along with original 1928 video footage taken by Akeley cameras showing lion cubs, elephant families, and herds of zebras. To showcase his artistry, Akeley’s bronze sculptures of elephants, a lion, and a buffalo will be on display, as well as a mountain-dwelling sheep taxidermied by Akeley himself.

Mr. Akeley’s Movie Camera is free to the public with general admission and will run through March 2019.

"Pancake" Camera that Changed Film and Natural History

  • Mon-Fri Closed
  • Saturday Closed
  • Sunday Closed

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