Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry Chicago [Video]



The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago (MSI) is located in Jackson Park. It is between The University of Chicago and Lake Michigan in Illinois. The museum is opened daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST. It has extended hours during spring break, summer, and holidays. MSI is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

MSI opened in 1933, during the World Fair that celebrated the city’s centennial. The theme for A Century of Progress International Exposition was technological innovation. Since 1998, David R. Mosena has been CEO and President of the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago. In 2009, it was the second largest aesthetic attraction in the state.

A History of a Single Building

The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago was originally known as The Palace of Fine Arts in 1893. It was designed by Charles B. Atwood for the D.H. Burnham & Co. The building’s facade is brick, unlike the other White City buildings, which makes it stand out from the others.

In 1920, the building was left vacant, until the Art Institute of Chicago, Professor Lorado Taft campaigned for its restoration. Taft wanted to turn the building into another museum that was devoted to sculpture. The South Park Commissioners were granted approval to sell $5 million in bonds to pay for the restoration.

Museum Another group, The Commercial Club of Chicago, wanted to establish a science museum in the city, so the empty building was selected. In 1926, Julius Rosenwald established the museum organization. His vision for creation came from a trip he took with his family, in 1911, to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany.

In an effort to get fellow club members excited about the idea the Sears Roebuck and Company president and philanthropist, Rosenwald, pledged $3 million toward converting the Palace of Fine Arts.

Eventually, Rosenwald invested another $2 million to the project to reach the $5 million goal for the restoration. The philanthropist declined to have his name on the building. Even so, for the first couple of years, the building was called the Rosenwald Industrial Museum. However, in 1928, the museum was officially named the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago.

During the conversion, the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago’s exterior was re-cast in limestone in order to maintain the 1893 Beaux Arts look. Its interior was replaced with the Art Moderne style that was designed by Alfred P. Shaw.

The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago Opens Its Doors

The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago opened to the public between 1933. MSI first opened its doors during the Century of Progress Exposition. Two of the museum’s presidents were present, quite a few of its curators, and staff members attended its opening.

For years, the original entrance to the museum was used by visitors, until the volume of people began to increase. No longer able to accommodate the influx of visitors, a new entrance was built. This structure was detached from the main building. Visitors now descend into an underground area and re-ascend into the main building.

During the first 55 years, admission was free. It was not until the early 90s that the museum started to charge for admittance. In 2008 the rates were $13.00. Then in 2015, the entrance fee increased to $18.00. However, there are many free days offered throughout the year. Unfortunately, those days are only for residents of Illinois, with proof of residency.

Exhibits Worthy of Kings and Queens

The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago has over 2,000 exhibits, displayed in 75 large halls. Along with their small attractions, they have several major exhibits.

  • The Coal Mine mimics a functioning deep shaft. Located in the museum’s Central Pavilion. The exhibition showcases original equipment from Old Ben #17 from 1933.
  • MSI has displayed the German U-505 submarine since 1954. The sub is one of two that were captured during World War II in the waters off of West Africa on June 4, 1944.
  • The Take Flight exhibit features a Boeing 727 jet plane. The aircraft was donated by United Airlines. The plane’s wing was removed, as well as a hole cut into its fuselage, to allow visitors to come aboard.
  • Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle is on display. The silent film star built the tiny dream house with help from her colleagues. Moore shared it during the Great Depression to raise monies for children’s charities. It came to the MSI in 1949.
  • A 3,500 square foot railroad replica, The Great Train Story, tells the story of transportation from Chicago to Seattle. The model features 20 trains taking a journey through the Rocky Mountains ranges and the Chicago skyscrapers. The attraction also allows for interaction. Visitors to the museum can push buttons to watch a drawbridge lift or set off charges to make trees fall.
  • The Transportation Zone showcases both land and air traMuseum nsportation. One such exhibit is the 999 Empire State Express which is a steam locomotive. The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago say that it is the first vehicle to exceed 100 miles per hour.
    ∗World War II warplanes donated by the British government.
    ∗The museum also houses a German Ju 87 R-2 or Stuka from Sturzkampfflugzeug, known as a dive bomber.
    ∗The Zone also has the Pioneer Zephyr in the Entry Hall. It is a stainless steel diesel powered streamlined train. It is named after the Greek god of wind, Anemoi. It traveled from Denver to Chicago in a little over 13 hours.
    ∗There is a flight simulator for the new F-35 Lightning II.

Interactive Exhibits

Rosenwald’s vision was to have interactive exhibits, and the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago has kept true to this. There are fun things to do:

  • The Genetics: Decoding Life exhibit offer visitors a look at how genetics affect the development of both humans and animals. They also have a chick hatchery which allows people to see baby chicks hatch from their eggs in an incubator. Live chicks are held in a pen for all to see.
  • The Toymaker 3000 allows people to order a spinning top and then watch as it is being made. The assembly line can produce 300 Gravitron tops an hour. Visitors at the MSI can choose a color and watch as it is engraved with their name. There are also robots that will draw faces and dance while wearing a mask of that person’s face.
  • There is a Fab Lab that uses cutting-edge software and equipment. This allows visitors to build anything in an interactive lab. If it can be imagined, it can be constructed. Children ages 6 to 12 must be with a chaperone over 18. As capacity is limited, advance tickets are recommended.
  • The Science Storms exhibit was opened in March 2010 and located in the Allstate Court. It has a 40-foot water vapor tornado, tsunami tank, heliostat system, Telsa coil, and a Wimshurst machine, which was built by James Wimshurst in the 19th Century.
  • In 2008, for a new exhibit called, YOU! the Experience. This new exhibit replaced the original model of the human heart with a 13 foot tall interactive 3D heart. Also featured on the walls are 24 real human embryos and fetuses, called Prenatal Development. The specimens were collected by Dr. Button, with help from local hospitals. The embryos and fetuses featured are from the Great Depression era. They were donated to the museum in 1939, and range from 28 days to 38 weeks. The room is darker than others to allow for quiet reflection.
  • MSI showcases the well-known Body Slices. This attraction displays two cadavers cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  • There are larger exhibits, like Yesterday’s Main Street, which is a replica of a Chicago street from early 20th Century. It has cobblestone streets, light fixtures, fire hydrants, and several shops. Of the shops on Main street, only two are operational. Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor serves an assortment of ice cream flavors. The Nickelodeon Cinema plays short silent films throughout the day.
  • The Swiss Jollyball is the world’s largest pinball machine. It is over 7 foot high and 15 feet wide. The machine was built by a British man who built it using only junk. The pinball moves through Swiss scenarios making sounds as it rolls along.
  • The Idea Factory is designed for children 10 and under. The exhibit allows young minds to test and observe theories of air pressure, light, construction, and more.
  • The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago has a Circus. This exhibit features animated dioramas of a miniature circus. It also has a shadow garden and fun house mirrors.

Traveling Exhibitions

Along with the museum’s standing exhibits, they also play host to temporary and traveling exhibitions. These generally last for five months or less and usually require an additional fee. The museum has showcased exhibitions like:

  • In 2000 the Titanic: The Exhibition
  • Body Works by Gunther Von Hagens was on display in 2005. In the same year, the museum added Game On.
  • In the summer of 2006, Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius.
  • CSI: The Experience
  • Robots Like US 
  • City of the Future
  • Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination
  • The Glass Experience
  • Harry Potter: The Exhibition showed from April to September 2009.
  • In 2015, the Robot Revolution
  • Where the Wild Things Are opens on Feb. 20, 2017. It features 50 original artworks from author/illustrator Maurice Sendak.
  • Brick by Brick is a world premier LEGO exhibit that reveals the marvels of engineering. Inspiration to builders showing through Sep. 4, 2017. Visitors can also build their own structures with hands-on building challenges. They are challenged to use the concepts of engineering, architecture, and construction.

The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago lets visitors immerse themselves in a world of science while learning without knowing.

By Tracy Blake
Edited by Cathy Milne


The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago: The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
Daily Herald: Budget-friendly fun: Free days at Museum of Science & Industry
TimeOut: Museum of Science and Industry’s ‘Brick by Brick’ exhibition extended through Labor Day

Featured Image Courtesy of Mark Heard’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
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First Inline Image Courtesy of Terence Faircloth’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inline Image Courtesy of Matt Howry’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License