The television show Zoo Parade starring Lincoln Park Zoo’s director Marlin Perkins was the first animal show in the history of television.
Zoo Parade pioneered the many wildlife shows that were to become popular to future television viewers. Its mission was simple, to provide entertainment and education through visits with zoo animals.
The show originated in 1945 when Marlin was asked to bring animals to the experimental television station WBKB and talk about them. Soon a mobile unit came to Lincoln Park Zoo on May 22, 1949 to bring the show Zoo Parade to television viewers. Over the years the show had many sponsors, including Jewel Food Stores, Quaker Oats and Mutual of Omaha.
The show was a huge success earning awards Including, the Peabody award (1951), TV-Forecast award (1951 & 1952), Lions Club award of Merit (1951) School Broadcast Conference Award (1950). Other awards followed for Best Children Show, Best Educational Show and Best Family View Show. Soon the show branched out to visit other US zoos such as Woodland Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Detroit Zoo.
Its last big push were two shows on location in Africa (1955) and the Amazon (1957). After the Amazon trip the show had run its course and was cancelled, having a national broadcast run from 1949-1957.
Marlin instinctively knew the power of television and said “I knew it was going to be a dynamic medium, because television is radio that you can see”.
Zoo Parades legacy is great. Marlin and his animal friends brought zoos and natural history to the attention of the American public. Much of the support for today’s environmental movement may be attributed to the proliferation of wildlife and natural history programs on the small screen and those in turn can be traced back to Perkin’s pioneering efforts with Zoo Parade.
We look at these early kinescopes of Zoo Parade and, as much as they seemed dated find that the programs message about animals and respect for all living things is timeless.