Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago) History

On June 19, 2008, the Museum of Science and Industry will celebrate our 75th anniversary. We look forward to many more years creating memories and fostering curiosity and a love of science for those who come through our doors. Highlights from the Museum’s history include:

1893 The Palace of Fine Arts, the Museum’s current building, is constructed for the World’s Columbian Exposition, which opened the same year.

1911 Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist and chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Company, visits Munich’s Deutsches Museum with his young son. The boy is captivated by the science museum where exhibits move, and visitors are encouraged to push buttons and work levers. The experience sparks the elder Rosenwald’s determination to bring such an institution to his hometown of Chicago.

1926 Rosenwald pledges $3 million toward the creation of an industrial museum in Chicago and galvanizes the city’s industrial elite in support of the project. Rosenwald dreams that the new museum will inspire the inventive genius in its guests, encouraging the next generation of engineers, scientists and doctors.

Rosenwald identifies the old Palace of Fine Arts building in Jackson Park as a home for the planned Museum. The years have reduced the Palace to crumbling plaster, but Rosenwald vows to return the building to its former glory. The South Park District passes a $5 million bond issue for its restoration.

1933 On June 19, the Museum opens its great brass doors for the first time. It is the first museum in North America to feature interactive exhibits.

One of the Museum’s first hands-on displays is The Coal Mine. The reproduction of an Illinois coal mine takes visitors 50 feet in a real hoist to the bottom of a mineshaft.

1942 The Museum opens its first Christmas Around the World celebration as a salute to the Allied nations in World War II.

1949 Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle becomes part of the Museum’s permanent collection.

1954 The U-505 Submarine arrives at the Museum. Guests are able to board the legendary German U-boat whose capture by the United States Navy helped the Allies win World War II. Today, this prized artifact is one of only five U-boats still in existence and the only one in the United States.

1956 The first baby chick is hatched at the Museum. Now located in the Genetics: Decoding Life exhibit, the Baby Chick Hatchery still excites and amazes guests.

1961 Mathematica: A World of Numbers opens. Charles and Ray Eames, two designers who constantly discovered new ways to fascinate the public, created the exhibit, which was filled with colorful, mesmerizing demonstrations.

1971 The Apollo 8 capsule arrives and becomes the centerpiece of a growing space exhibit at the Museum.

1986 The Henry Crown Space Center opens.

1994 The Museum lands a United Boeing 727 aircraft at Chicago’s Meigs Field. The jet is the largest plane ever to land at the airport. From Meigs Field, the 727 is towed across Lake Michigan and over Lake Shore Drive to the Museum, where it is cantilevered to the east balcony as part of the permanent Take Flight exhibit. Take Flight explains commercial flight and allows guest to experience a simulated take off and landing.

1998 The Museum opens an underground parking garage. The construction allows the Museum to restore its magnificent front lawn, which had previously been a parking lot. The newly conserved Pioneer Zephyr also opens and is showcased in its new exhibit area next to the garage.

2000 The Museum opens the blockbuster Titanic exhibition and is the first institution to display artifacts from a recent dive to the legendary ship.

2002 The Great Train Story, a 3,500-square-foot model train exhibit that explores rail operations in America, opens. The permanent display replaces the beloved model railroad exhibit and features more than 30 trains racing along 1,400 feet of track on a cross-country trip between Chicago and Seattle.

2003 The Museum celebrates its 70th birthday. Today the institution is the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, boasting 14 acres of hands-on fun and learning. More than 160 million guests have experienced cutting-edge Museum exhibits including The Great Train Story, Genetics: Decoding Life and Networld.  The permanent exhibit and technological wonder ToyMaker 3000 debuts, featuring an automated assembly line of 12 robots that make 300 toy tops an hour.  Live…From the Heart debuts and gives Chicago students the chance to imagine themselves as cardiologists in training by participating in an open-heart surgery via video conference with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. The program provides students and teachers in grades 8-12 a dramatic exploration of the human heart.  ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative MObility), the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, was demonstrated for the first time in Chicago at the Museum.  To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight, the Museum, Wright Redux Association (volunteer craftsmen from Chicago’s suburbs) and Packer Engineering rebuilt the 1903 Wright Flyer – a 40-foot-wide biplane – and attempted to fly the plane on the Museum’s front lawn. On September 20, more than 3,000 guests witnessed the first public attempt to fly the replica in the United States. Lack of wind kept the plane from flying that day but the team successfully flew the plane on October 14 at Clow International Airport in Bolingbrook, IL. The replica is now part of the Museum’s permanent collection.

2004 Chicago native and Nobel Laureate Dr. James Watson, perhaps the most famous living scientist in the world, dedicated a DNA double-helix structure to the Museum’s Genetics: Decoding Life exhibit on January 20. Watson frequently visited the Museum as a youth and would later change the world of science and medicine when de discovered the DNA’s double-helix structure in 1953.  In April, as part of the largest restoration effort in the Museum’s history, the U-505 German submarine is moved almost 1,000 feet and lowered into its new home on the northeast side of the Museum.  Action! An Adventure in Moviemaking, a temporary exhibit developed by the Museum, opens in May. Action! takes visitors to behind the scenes of Hollywood to explore the process of filmmaking. Exhibit is the first venture for the Museum to rent/tour as a temporary show.

2005 In June, the new U-505 Submarine exhibit opens to the public. The Museum’s prized vessel is now part of an indoor, 35,000-square-foot interactive exhibit that tells the story of its dramatic capture.  Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies, an exhibit that had awed more than 16 million people around the world with the complexity of the human body, makes its Midwest debut at the Museum in February.

2006 The Museum develops and opens Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor Genius in April, 2006. This exhibit is the most comprehensive exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci to be presented in the United States.

2007 The Museum opens a renovated Transportation Gallery, which interprets the history of flight in a new, spectacular overhead display. The Farm, becomes Farm Tech, a modernized exhibit addressing current farming technologies and improvements, and the Henry Crown Space Center is renovated to include new exhibits, interactive units and displays on the history and future of space travel.

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