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Story of the Museum of Science and Industry at 75

Presented by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and its website www.hydepark.org

Visit the MSI website for the full story and its many permanent and temporary exhibits and Omnimax shows.

The Museum of Science and Industry (1933-2008), strategically located at South Lake Shore Drive and 57th Drive along Lake Michigan in Chicago, celebrated the 75th Anniversary of its opening, June 19, 1933, in 2008. It is now in a massive fundraising, "Science Rediscovered," whose goal is not only new and renovated exhibits but a massive outreach including into the schools, at a time when America is seen by many to be losing its edge in science and engineering, and these their ability to stir the imagination, at a crisis time in the world's future. The Museum is a Chicago and National landmark.

The following is drawn, among other sources, from a section on the Museum in the June 18, 2008 Hyde Park Herald, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Hyde Park and Chicago's most renowned and well-attended attraction. Following the story of the founding is a timeline.

The Museum has gradually converted more and more of its vast space into exhibit and support space (it once had a large part devoted to U of C Hospitals records), added the Crown Space Center, converted its once ever expanding front parking lot into a grassed-over underground garage, and built a new pit for the U-505 submarine and its exhibit. reconstruction of Lake Shore Drive provided opportunity to gain new underpass access. And next to the Crown Center is a new teaching area on sustainable and high-tech living. Its most recent proposals (part of its long-range plan) is to turn its southwest service lot into a green teaching center with green drainage and bus drop off center (funding includes federal transportation SAFETEA grants.)

The Museum comes from the juncture of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the "I Will" spirit of its entrepreneurs and citizens who made so much in Chicago happen, the vision of Julius Rosenwald based on a visit with his son to a precursor institution in Munich in 1911, and the twists and turns by which things actually do or don't get done.

(For information before 1893, see the Jackson Park Timeline.)

The northernmost large building at the Columbian Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts, was also one of the few fair buildings made of brick and iron, so as to safeguard the treasures the countries of the world entrusted to the great fair. It was covered, though, like most of the buildings, with gesso, a plaster and glue material modified for the fair. The Palace (incidentally far from being the largest building) front door faced south to the Columbia Basin, modified from park-designer Frederick Law Olmsted's North Pond as part of a set of waterways that eventually emerged via the Court of Honor on Lake Michigan at about 63rd Street. Earlier in the 19th Century, an embayment of the Lake that was a precursor of North Pond actually covered where would be the east part of the Palace. Much of the fairgrounds, including for parts of the Palace, had to be built up on top of the ancient dunes and swales, today, for example, about three feet below grade on the west side of the Museum where state pavilions were set atop the raised soil. Part of the raising was done so that gas, water and sewer lines could be brought to the Palace and other buildings.

Still, despite its stronger materials, the Palace was designed by Charles B. Atwood of Daniel Burnham's firm only to be temporary. It's a wonder in itself that it was made to do and look fairly well at least to 1920. The design of domed Greek crosses connected with pavilions is in a "Beaux Arts" modified Roman classical design, decorated on the outside with female-like columns called caryatids and various other frieze elements from the Athenian Parthenon and other ancient structures. Master sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens called the Palace "the finest thing done since the Parthenon." Cost: $541,795.

The Field Columbian Museum moved in via rail spurs in 1894, and out in 1920, after which the Palace, one of the few rem ants of the fair left, began a rapid sink into ruin--not only due to the temporary materials but due to that high water table and water-logged sand that sapped the foundations. Rain, cold, wind worked on the plastered brick and wood.

Public opinion favored restoration, especially after the Chicago Tribune started to beat the drums, at the same time the winds were blowing for funding to implement the Burnham Plan of Chicago. The South Parks Commission, at the urging of Ed Kelly (the future mayor) later reversed its opinion and asked for proposals. The $3 million referendum was passed in 1926 (another source says 1924). In 1922 the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs had raised c. $7,000 to restore a corner and in 1925 held a banquet in its very cold and drafty halls.

Hyde Park master sculptor Lorado Taft (Fountain of Time) wanted to use it as an Art Institute of Chicago school and showcase for the mammoth collection of plaster casts of famous sculptures. Other ideas were industrial arts schools, convention hall, or warehousing. Taft found out while away that Julius Rosenwald had pulled a coup in favor of his idea. Being able to muster enormous financial and political support, Rosenwald's project was so monumental that no thought of multiple uses was thereafter considered. (However, the space of the building is so enormous and it took so long to fill most of it with exhibits and collections and shops that for several decades much of the interior was rented to the University of Chicago Hospitals for records and other storage.)

Julius Rosenwald had risen in business to become the operations reorganizer/rescuer of Sears Roebuck and eventually its chairman. The perpetually rising value and splits of Sears stock (he introduced employee stock-sharing) left him with far more than he could spend. He not only thought carefully about his philanthropies-- including progressive works such as schools for African Americans and the fight against digestive diseases in the South, affordable housing, and in medicine as well as financing several of the buildings and programs at University of Chicago-- but about how to do fundraising. He perfected the matching grant and the sunset fund that had to spend its funds in a certain number of years rather than become, as he thought of it, a self-perpetuating and non-adapting hoard. Eventually the Depression so hit Sears stock that the family was virtually broke by the time of his death (in 1934?), but not before he undertook an enormous number of projects including the Industrial Museum. Rosenwald lived in Kenwood's largest mansion at 49th and Ellis.

In 1911, Rosenwald took his 8-year-old son William to the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Both were impressed with one of the early interactive museums, which also tied the exploding industrial technology of the day to basic science, and Rosenwald tucked away the idea of similar museum in Chicago among his many other projects.

After the World War and as the Field Museum moved to its new home south of the Loop, Rosenwald dusted of his idea and took it to the Commercial Club of Chicago, which was then pushing (after rejecting) implementation of the Burnham Plan, which included remaking the shoreline as far south as Jackson Park. Chief ally for the "industrial museum" at the Club was its president Sewell L. Avery. With a $3 million pledge from Rosenwald in 1926, they quickly settled upon the Palace of Fine Arts. In 1926, the South Parks board, which had once supported demolition, got on board and sought and secured passage of a $5 million bond issue. They insisted that the exterior replicate the Palace at the time of the Columbian Exposition. The interior would be suited to an interactive museum, and then-rising Art Moderne or Industriale was the preference for the interior.

R. C. Wieboldt Company was selected for exterior restoration at $1.6 million. Work was delayed by a fight over exterior material between terra cotta manufacturers and limestone cutters, carried out from papers to board meetings. Indiana limestone won out--350,000 cubic feet weighing 28,000 tons. in 1929 Mr. Wieboldt throw a brick through a window to inaugurate the work. (Another source says work was underway in 1927.) Not until 1931 were the caryatids and statues installed, personally overseen by Wieboldt.

Before construction even started, there was a fight over the naming. While Rosenwald was out of the country, the museum was incorporated as the "Rosenwald Industrial Museum," knowing full well that Rosenwald detested that sort of thing, not even liking the U of C Geography building being known as "Rosenwald." In 1928 a compromise was reached, to name the place Museum of Science and Industry, but able to put on its stationery, etc. "Founded by Julius Rosenwald." But most Chicagoans and Hyde Parkers called it the Rosenwald for decades. Rosenwald's ultimate contribution was about $7 million. He called it a paean to America's inventive genius.

Doors opened in 1933, just in time for the Century of Progress Exhibition. Structural work and installation continued into 1936. It is the first interactive museum in North America.

1893 Palace of Fine Arts is built--most permanent like Fair structure
1911 Julius Rosenwald and son William visit the interactive industrial Deutsches Museum in Munich.
1919-21 Field Museum moves out, various ideas for MSI including demolition
1922-26 Various, ult. Julius Rosenwald build support for the industrial museum
1926 Rosenwald pledges initial $3 m of his eventual $7 m for museum and South Parks Board secures bond referendum of $5 m.
1933 June 19 the Museum opens, work continues. First big hit is the coal mine.
1942 Christmas Around the World as a salute to the Allies
1943 Sante Fe model opens: 3,500-sq. ft. it shows integration of production (industry and agriculture), distribution, travel.
1949 Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle
1950 The giant Heart
1954 U-505 is pulled across the Drive to rest outside the Museum as exhibit.
1956 The chick hatchery becomes another emblem of the Museum.
1961 Mathematica, designed by Charles and Ray Eames
1962 Museum of Science and Industry proposes to pave over more parkland for parking (south of Columbia Basin or the panel between Cornell and Stony?). After protests the plans are dropped.
1971 Apollo 8 capsule installed, to become a centerpiece of...
1983 July 20 Museum of Science and Industry holds a lavish outdoors science fair to celebrate its 50th birthday. Ultra-light aircraft perform stunts.
1984-5 About this time, Museum of Science and Industry proposes to build a parking structure in the park between Cornell and Stony Island. After community opposition, the plan was dropped. In May 1985 the Museum does start construction of the Crown Space Center and Omnimax.
1986 Henry Crown Space Center, first substantial expansion of the Museum
1990 At end of year Museum of Science and Industry starts to charge admission, ending an era.
1994 Boeing 727 landed at Meigs Field, towed down the Lake, across the Drive, and cantilevered to the east balcony to anchor "Take Flight."

 The Museum of Science and Industry submitted a concept plan for two new wings, an underground parking garage with potentially an east exit, a new covered structure on the northeast side for the U-505 submarine (to be restored), and rehabilitation of the Music Court parking lot. The Chicago Plan Commission approved the plan in stages. Plans to aerate the Columbia Basin (if submitted with this) were dropped with preservationists pitted against environmentalists. The garage was approved, with many park people conceding this as necessary and providing reclamation of the north lawn.The rest of the plan was also approved, although details escaped most activists and were bitterly contested later.

The Museum's Santa Fe Engine 2903, long outdoors, goes to the Railway Museum in Union, IL via temporary tracks to 48th and the IC.

1998 The underground garage opens, front great lawn is restored, Pioneer Zephyr and great underground hall.
2000 Blockbuster Titanic exhibit
2002 Great Train Story updates the Sante Fe exhibit: 30 trains on 1,400 feet of track from "Chicago to Seattle."
2003 70th Anniversary. 14 acres of display (most renovated) is largest in NA.
ToyMaker 3000, Live...From the Heart-an operation via satellite.
Advanced humanoid robot.
Wright plane replica attempts to fly from the great lawn.
2004 Genetics-Decoding Life with James Watson
Restored U-505 moved around the Museum and lowered into its new permanent exhibit pen.
Action! An Adventure in Moviemaking.
2005 U-505 opens in June. Body Worlds.
2006 Leonard da Vinci
2007 Renovated: Transportation, Farm Tech, Crown Space
2008 Glass Experience and Smart Home