About Martin and Osa Johnson

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, through their films, writings, and lectures, brought back knowledge of cultures thousands of miles away.

From 1917 to 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 picture 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. Their films serve to document a wilderness that has long since vanished and tribal cultures and customs that have 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 of Americans. Their legacy is a record of the animals and cultures of many remote areas of the world which have undergone significant change.

The outstanding accomplishments and legacy of Martin and Osa Johnson – their films, photographs, expedition reports, correspondence and personal memorabilia – are housed at The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas.

1884 Martin Johnson born October 9 in Rockford, Illinois. His family arrived in Lincoln, Kansas, when Martin was just nine months old. He was raised in both Lincoln and Independence, Kansas.
1894Osa Leighty born March 14 in Chanute, Kansas.
1907Martin departs aboard Jack London's boat on April 23.
1909Martin returns to Independence, Kansas.
1910Martin and Osa are married in Independence, Kansas on May 15.
1917Martin and Osa leave from San Francisco for their first South Seas trip on June 5.
1918Their first movie, Among the Cannibals of the South Pacific premieres on September 11.
1919Martin and Osa leave on their second trip to the South Pacific on April 8.
1920Without returning home from their trip to the South Seas in 1919, Martin and Osa traveled to North Borneo in February of 1920 to film wild animals. With few roads they traveled up river in gobangs (canoes) to reach the island’s interior. At the headwaters of North Borneo’s largest river, the Kinabatangan, they visited the Tenggara people, filming and photographing their centuries old customs.
The constant rain and thick jungle canopy was a difficult challenge for Martin and Osa, who had never attempted wildlife photography before. Along the coastal lowlands around the city of Sandakan they were able to film elephants, buffalo and other animals. Martin wrote letters home on and around July 9th, 1920 detailing this four month trek on the Kinabatangan River into the interior jungles of North Borneo.
1921“Jungle Adventures,” the Johnsons film about North Borneo premiered in September 1921.
Martin and Osa and Martin's father arrive in Mombasa, Kenya, for their first African safari in September.
1923Their film Trailing African Wild Animals is released on April 15.
1924Martin and Osa arrive in Kenya for their second safari on January 26. This trip is also known as Four Years in Paradise.
1927Martin and Osa sail from New York for their third trip to Africa on December 14.
1928Simba premieres on January 23. It had premieres around the world, and we'll include the confirmed dates and locations as we can:

The Palace Theatre on September 28th
1929In November, Martin and Osa make their fourth trip to Africa. This results in Congorilla, the first movie with sound shot in Africa.
1930The film Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Martin Johnson opens on January 1.
1932 Congorilla opens on July 21.
1933Martin and Osa arrive in Africa for their fifth and final safari.
1935The Johnsons leave for Borneo on August 12, their last adventure together.
1937Martin dies of injuries sustained in a commercial plane crash in Burbank, California, on January 13.
1953Osa dies in New York City at the age of 58 on January 7.
1961 The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum opens in Chanute, Kansas, on June 11.
1993The Safari Museum relocates to its present location, the newly renovated Santa Fe depot in Chanute, Kansas.