Essential Architecture-  Chicago South and West

Museum of Science and Industry


Charles B. Atwood; Graham, Anderson Probst & White; Shaw, Naess & Murphy


57th St. at Lake Shore Drive


1891-93; reconstructed 1920-30; interior renovation 1930-41






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Originally built as the Palace of Fine Arts for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, this structure later became the first home of the Field Museum of Natural History. After the museum moved out, the plaster-clad building was reconstructed (1929-33) in stone for the Museum of Science and Industry. Although its exterior is an exact copy of the original Beaux-Arts style Classical Revival design, its interior was remodeled in the Art Moderne style, under the direction of architect Alfred Shaw.
Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)

The Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the only in-place surviving building from the 1893 World Columbian Exposition and is a National Historic Landmark.The Museum of Science and Industry is located in Chicago, Illinois in Jackson Park, in the Hyde Park neighborhood. It is housed in the only in-place surviving building from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the former Fine Arts Building.

The building, which was constructed of longer-lasting materials than the other Exposition buildings, initially housed the Field Museum of Natural History. When a new Field Museum building opened downtown in 1920, the former site was left vacant. After a few years, the building was selected as the site for a new science museum. The building's exterior was re-cast in stone, retaining its 1893 Beaux Arts look, while the interior was completely rebuilt in Art Deco style.

The museum was established in 1926 by wealthy Sears, Roebuck & Company chairman Julius Rosenwald, who pledged $3 million to the institution. He eventually donated about $7 million. He also insisted that his name not appear on the building, but nonetheless, for the first few years of the museum's existence, it was known as the Rosenwald Industrial Museum. The name of the museum was later change to the Museum of Science and Industry in 1928. Rosenwald's vision was to create an interactive museum in the style of the Deutsches Museum, a museum he visited in 1911 when he was on vacation with his family in Germany.

The museum conducted a nationwide search to find its first director. In the end the board of directors selected Waldemar Kaempffert because he shared Julius Rosenwald's vision. Kaempffert was the science editor for the New York Times. He assembled the museum's first staff and began organizing and constructing the exhibits. He was also instrumental in developing close ties with the science departments of the University of Chicago which supplied much of the scholarship for the exhibits. Kaempffert resigned in early 1931 amid growing disputes between himself and the board of directors over the objectivity and neutrality of the exhibits and his management of the staff.

The new Museum of Science and Industry was first opened to the public in 1933 during the Century of Progress Exposition.


The Museum has several major permanent exhibits. Take Flight recreates a San Francisco to Chicago flight using a real Boeing 727 jet plane donated by United Airlines. The Coal Mine re-creates a working mine inside the museum. The museum has just opened a new exhibit space for the U-505 Submarine, the only German submarine captured by the US in World War II. Silent film actress Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle is on display, as is The Great Train Story, a 3,500 square foot model railroad that explains the story of transportation from Seattle to Chicago. The Transportation Zone includes exhibits on air and land transportation. The first diesel-powered streamlined stainless-steel train, the Pioneer Zephyr, is on permanent display, and a free tour goes through it every 20 minutes. Several U.S. Navy warships are on display. There is a flight simulator for the new F-35 Lightning II.

In keeping with Rosenwald's vision, many of the exhibits are interactive, ranging from Genetics: Decoding Life, which looks at how genetics affect human and animal development, to ToyMaker 3000, a working assembly line that lets visitors order a toy top and watch as it is made.

The Henry Crown Space Center at the Museum of Science and Industry includes the Apollo 8 capsule which took Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders on the first lunar orbital mission. Other exhibits include an OmniMax theater, Scott Carpenter's Mercury Atlas 7 capsule, a Lunar Module trainer and a life-size mockup of a space shuttle.

In addition to its three floors of standing exhibits, the Museum of Science and Industry also hosts temporary and traveling exhibitions. In 2000, it created and hosted the largest display of relics from the wreck of Titanic. It also hosted Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds exhibit, a view into the human body through use of plastinated human specimens.

The Museum is known for unique and quirky permanent exhibits, such as a walk-through model of the human heart and two cadavers exhibited in 1-inch thick slices. Due to its age and design, the Museum's building itself has become a museum piece.

Other exhibits include Yesterday's Mainstreet; a mock-up of a common street in the early 1900's complete with a cobble road and several mock shops, including several Chicago-based chain stores. Included are:

Unlike the many other shops in Yesterday's Main Street, both Finnigan's Ice Cream Parlor and The Nickelodeon Cinema can be entered and are functional aspects of the exhibit. Finnigan's Ice Cream Shop serves an assortment of flavors and varieties of ice cream, while The Nickelodeon Cinema plays silent films during various times of the day. Another important aspect to Yesterday's Main Street is the powerful air conditioning unit that is blown throughout the small area to create the sensation of walking down the street on a cold fall evening. The area features antiques from each shop.


With special thanks to the City of Chicago website, , for much of the info on this page.
Photos copyright City of Chicago.