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).

Chicago World Fairs & Chicago Museum Free Days

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:

https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/

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.

This statue is located near Jackson Park, and was built in 1918 to commemorate 25 years since the 1893 World Fair. The originally statue was demolished soon after the Fair ended, was much taller, and was located in the Fair’s center.

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.

This flagpole is outside of Main East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. It is where both Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford attended high school.
This flagpole was set up at Niles Township Community High School in Skokie, Illinois, which no longer exists. It is now Oakton Community College’s Skokie campus.

Recommended Books

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).