The coldest months of the year in Chicago, January and February, are also when Chicago’s museums have the lowest number of visitors. Because of this, Chicago’s most famous museums usually have a large number of free admission days for Illinois residents.
Here is the list of free days offered at Chicago museums in 2020:
Two of the top three museums in Chicago (in my opinion), which generally have pricey admission, are offering generous free day options for Illinois residents in February. These museums are the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. The Art Institute of Chicago is not actually offering free days in February, although Wednesdays from 5-8 PM are always free to Illinois residents throughout the entire year.
Coincidentally, I realized that all three museums have a connection with the Chicago World Fair of 1893. Known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World Fair of 1893 was supposed to commemorate 400 years since Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Western Hemisphere in 1492 (preparation for the Fair delayed it to 1893 instead of 1892). There had been many World Fairs prior to 1893, and many more to follow, although Chicago’s probably ranks as one of the more famous ones. People from all over the world came for Chicago’s World Fair.
I will discuss each of the three museums in separate posts, but here is a brief summary of how each museum was connected to the 1893 World Fair. The Museum of Science and Industry was one of the many Classical-style buildings built for the World Fair. However, it is the only one that still survives. The Field Museum started out as a museum that housed artifacts from the 1893 Chicago World Fair. Finally, the Art Institute of Chicago was built in 1893 because of the World Fair, although it was not directly part of the Fair.
Most of Chicago’s 1893 World Fair took place in the South Side of Chicago, specifically in the Jackson Park area. Today, the area has an abandoned and eerie feel to it, although the future Barack Obama Presidential Center is supposed to be built there soon. Significant legacies from the Fair include the introduction of the Cracker Jack snack, the zipper, and Wrigley’s chewing gum. Additionally, the first Ferris wheel was built for Chicago’s World Fair as a rival to Paris’ 1889 World Fair, which introduced the Eiffel Tower. The original Ferris wheel was demolished soon after the Fair, but Navy Pier in Chicago now has a Ferris wheel to commemorate the first one.
If you want to learn more about the 1893 World Fair, I recommend the following two resources. The first is the book, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson. It juxtaposes the story of the construction of the World Fair (nicknamed the “White City” because of its massive white buildings) with the story of H. H. Holmes (the devil). During the Chicago World Fair, Holmes went about murdering people, and is known as the first serial killer in the United States. A second resource is the film The Current War (released in 2019), which portrays the electric current race that occurred between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and less directly, Nikola Tesla, and their competition to illuminate the 1893 World Fair.
As a bonus, I want to mention that Chicago also hosted another World Fair in 1933 and 1934, known as the Century of Progress Exposition. It helped boost morale and bring new job opportunities during the Great Depression. This Fair was held a little further north, on Chicago’s Museum Campus area, where the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field, and the Shedd Aquarium are located. The theme of the 1933 World Fair was to promote industrial progress and commemorate Chicago’s 100th birthday, since it was incorporated in 1833. Unlike the 1893 World Fair, the second World Fair’s architecture was more modern and included a lot of Art Deco style. Unfortunately, none of this Fair’s buildings still remain.
I found two flagpoles from the 1933 Chicago World Fair at two Chicago suburb schools. I wonder if they were originally a part of that Fair’s “Avenue of Flags” walkway.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Book of the Fair: An Historical and Descriptive Presentation of the World’s Science, Art, and Industry, as Viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. New York: Bounty Books, 1894.
Buel, James W. The Magic City. New York: Arno Press, 1974.
Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.
Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2002.
Sources and Further Reading
Adams, Barry. “On Wisconsin: An End for Little Norway and the Possible Return Trip for Its Signature Building.” Wisconsin State Journal, December 7, 2014. https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/columnists/on-wisconsin-an-end-for-little-norway-and-a-possible/article_7b584af9-fb7f-584d-ab29-876febb948c0.html (accessed January 25, 2019).
The Current War. DVD. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Dallas: Lantern Entertainment, 2019.
“Free Days for Chicago-Area Museums.” Chicago Parent, January 2, 2020. https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/ (accessed January 25, 2019).
LaTrace, A.J., “A Look at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair in Color.” Curbed Chicago, May 12, 2017. https://chicago.curbed.com/2017/5/12/15629342/1933-chicago-worlds-fair-color-film-footage (accessed January 25, 2019).
McNamara, Chris. “Remnants of the White City. Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2004 https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2004-07-02-0407020064-story.html (accessed January 25, 2019).
Rydell, Robert W. “Century of Progress Exposition (May 27, 1933-November 12, 1933; May 25, 1934-October 31, 1934).” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/225.html (accessed January 25, 2019).
Rydell, Robert W. “World’s Columbian Exposition (May 1, 1893-October 30, 1893.).” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2004. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1386.html (accessed January 25, 2019).
Wadsworth, Kimberley. “Relics of the World’s Fair: Chicago.” Atlas Obscura, January 10, 2014. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/relics-of-the-world-s-fair-chicago (accessed January 25, 2019).