Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is one of the only surviving buildings from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was in Jackson Park, in the South Side of Chicago. Like most of the other buildings at the World’s Fair, it was built in the Beaux Arts (Greek Revival style) architectural style.  Unlike many of the other buildings built for the Fair, it had a more solid structure, which is why it still stands today.  Originally called the Palace of Fine Arts, and bordering a lagoon that no longer exists, the building, as its original name implies, displayed art.  Original photos of the Palace of Fine Arts building can be found here: https://chicagology.com/columbiaexpo/fair039/

This is a current photo of the Museum of Science and Industry (formerly, Palace of Fine Arts).

A year after the 1893 World’s Fair, the building became the Columbian Museum of Chicago, and then the Field Columbian Museum, named after Marshal Field, one of the Museum’s benefactors.  The Museum began as a place to house items from the Chicago World’s Fair (now mostly housed in its archives).  However, as the museum grew, it eventually moved to a new location in 1921. 

The Palace of Fine Arts building / former Field Museum then fell into disrepair.  However, a wealthy businessman named Julius Rosenwald, who co-owned Sears, Roebuck and Company, eventually purchased and restored the building.  He wanted Chicago to have a museum dedicated to science, just like the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  This became Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  Its opening, in 1933, corresponded with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933, called “A Century of Progress.”  Several items from the 1933 World’s Fair actually made their way into the Museum of Science and Industry afterwards, such as Dr. Helen Button’s “Formation of the Human Embryo” exhibit, which contains real fetuses, and shows how they develop in the womb.

This is the tomb of Julius Rosenwald, the founder of the Museum of Science and Industry. He is buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago: 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave. Chicago, IL 60660.

Today, entry into the Museum is a little over $20 for adults, and a little over $10 for children.  However, during the winter months, the Museum usually has free days for Illinois residents.  Here is the list of free days for 2020: https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/ I do not think that the free days apply for entry into their special exhibits, though.

The Museum of Science and Industry often has temporary exhibits.  However, this massive building also contains many permanent exhibits.  These include an exhibit called “Yesterday’s Main Street,” which recreates what an American town would have looked like in the early 20th century.  Another exhibit includes vehicles and equipment used during different space explorations.  You can also go inside older transportation vehicles, see baby chicks hatch, watch a giant model train set, see a circus exhibit, and peek into a beautiful fairy castle dollhouse (highly recommended).  Other permanent exhibits require an additional entrance fee.  These include a tour of a captured U-505 German submarine from World War II and a tour of a recreated coal mine.  Finally, visitors can also purchase tickets to watch a film in the Museum’s 5-story domed-theater.  The film options frequently change, but are always related to science (e.g. tornadoes or climbing Mount Everest).

If you visit during the Christmas season, you can see an annual exhibit called “Christmas Around the World.”  This exhibit is made up of over 50 Christmas trees near the Museum’s entrance.  Each tree is decorated by local volunteers and represents a different country or ethnic group.  The annual tradition began in 1942 during World War II.  Originally, there was only one tree which was decorated differently for twelve days, with each day representing a different allied country fighting alongside the United States.

There are other exhibits in the Museum of Science and Industry that I did not even mention.  It is a huge and beautiful museum that is definitely worth visiting.

P. S.  There is another building from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that still exists, but it is no longer in Chicago. This is the Norway Building, which was a building Norway built and sent for the 1893 World’s Fair.  It moved several times, and was a part of a Norwegian historical village/museum in Wisconsin, called Little Norway, from 1935-2012.  The grandson of one of its builders brought it back to Norway in 2017.  The remainder of the buildings from the World’s Fair either burned down or were demolished.

Sources and Further Reading

Conn, Steven. “Field Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/450.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Keyes, Jonathan J. “Museum of Science and Industry.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/859.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Mastony, Colleen. “Norway Building from 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Heads Home.” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2015. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-little-norway-blue-mounds-met-20150919-story.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Museum of Science and Industry. https://www.msichicago.org/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Palace of Fine Arts.” Chicagology. https://chicagology.com/columbiaexpo/fair039/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

Snell, Joe. “Assyrian Christmas Tree Joins Popular Chicago Exhibition.” The Assyrian Journal, December 2018. https://theassyrianjournal.com/assyrian-christmas-tree-joins-popular-chicago-exhibition/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

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