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Herbert Lang (1879-1957)

by Gordy Slack

"[Herbert] Lang was a man of almost superhuman energy," said James Chapin, Lang's assistant on the American Museum's 1909 -1915 expedition to the Congo. "He could work from before daybreak to midnight and always be doing something useful." That energy, combined with his artistic and descriptive talents and his passions for wildlife and exploration, made Lang the ideal person to lead the first major scientific expedition into what Lang called Africa's "heart," the upper Congo Basin.

Lang was born in Oehringen, Wurttemberg, Germany in 1879. He turned a childhood interest in the natural world into a job as a taxidermist in Wurttemberg, and then, later, went to work for the natural history museum at the University of Zurich. He went on to do taxidermy at Fasse et Cie in Paris, a business that supplied natural history specimens to French schools.

The 24-year-old Lang emigrated to America in 1903 and joined the American Museum staff as a taxidermist that same year. For the next three years he developed dioramas and other exhibits of North American birds. In 1906, he left for Africa for the first time, representing the American Museum on a big-game collecting expedition to Kenya led by the wealthy hunter Richard Tjader, who agreed to give the museum most of his animal "trophies" in exchange for Lang's assistance. Tjader and Lang brought back 178 mammal specimens (including antelopes, monkeys, giraffes, rhinoceros, and lions), and 232 birds. After his return, Lang dedicated himself to cataloging and preparing those specimens for the museum.

Partly because of Lang's experience in Africa, and partly because of his expertise preparing and preserving animal specimens, the museum's Director, Herman Bumpus, offered Lang the job of leading the Congo Expedition, a task he undertook with determination and diligence until the first World War broke out in 1914. Upon his return to New York, Lang was made an Assistant in Mammalogy and assigned to the preparation, arrangement, and description of the thousands of specimens he and Chapin had collected on the Congo Expedition. In 1919, Lang was made an Assistant Curator in the Museum's Department of Mammalogy, where he continued to work on the fauna of British Guiana (now Guyana), making comparisons between the African and the South American forests and savannas.

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More Expedition Readings

(click images for larger view)

 AMNH # 32297, portrait of Herbert Lang

Herbert Lang, 1909

AMNH # l_41_25, lantern slide of H. Lang with 				Rhino

Lang with Rhino

AMNH # 224270, profile of Mangbetu woman

Mangbetu woman