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Exploring Africa with Martin and Osa Johnson.

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In the first half of the 20th century an American couple from Kansas named Martin and Osa Johnson captured the public's imagination through their films and books of adventure in exotic, far-away lands.


Photographers, explorers, naturalists and authors, Martin and Osa studied the wildlife and peoples of East and Central Africa, the South Pacific Islands and British North Borneo. They explored then unknown lands and brought back knowledge of cultures thousands of miles away through their films, writings and lectures.


From 1917-1936, the Johnsons set up camp in some of the most remote areas of the world and provided an unmatched photographic record of the wildernesses of Kenya, the Congo, British North Borneo and the Solomon and New Hebrides Islands. Their equipment was the most advanced motion pictures apparatus of the day, some of it designed by Martin Johnson himself.


When the young adventurers left their home in Kansas to explore and photograph these lands, little did they realize that they would provide the world with a photographic record of the African game of unimagined magnitude and beauty. The Johnsons gave the filmmakers and researchers of today an important source of ethnological and zoological material which would otherwise have been lost.


Their photographs represent one of the great contributions to the pictorial history of the world and their films serve to document a wilderness that has long since vanished, tribal cultures and customs that ceased to exist.



Through popular movies such as Simba (1928) and Baboona (1935) and best-selling books still in print such as I Married Adventure (1940), Martin and Osa popularized camera safaris and an interest in African wildlife conservation for generations the world over. Their legacy is a record of the animals and cultures of many remote areas of the world which have undergone significant changes: permission has been granted to Safaritalk by the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum to publish photographs and personal letters from their extensive African archive in an effort to bring to life what Safari was like during the nineteen twenties and thirties. Safaritalk is working with the museum's curator, Jacquelyn Borgeson in order to publish the most relevant documents to the trips with regard to logistics and costings, equipment and transportation as well as Martin and Osa's personal thoughts. Thus for the first time many of these photographs and letters are being made available for study to a wide general audience: as an ongoing project it will become an important Johnson study resource on the internet.



The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum is located in Osa's hometown of Chanute, Kansas. Formed in 1961 to preserve the Johnsons achievements and to encourage further research into their fields of study, the Safari Museum (as it was originally named) has grown and flourished. The museum started with a core collection of the Johnsons films, photographs, manuscripts, articles, books, and personal belongings donated by Osa's mother. The museum shares the beautiful old railroad depot with the Chanute Library.


The museum website can be found here:


The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum is a not-for-profit, 501©(3) organization.


It is situated in Chanute's beautifully renovated Santa Fe train depot at 111 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chanute, KS, 66720



All images and letters are provided courtesy of the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum and all other uses are prohibited without written permission: please contact the museum directly at (Tel) 620-431-2730 or

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