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Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum
Clark Street facade of the Chicago History Museum
Established April 1856
Location 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614
Type History Museum
Visitors 240,000 (2013)[1]
Director Gary T. Johnson
Public transit access

Bus: 22, 36, 37, 72, 73, 151, 156 Chicago 'L':


Chicago History Museum (formerly known as the Chicago Historical Society) was founded in 1856 to study and interpret Chicago's history. It is located in Lincoln Park in a building at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. It was renamed the Chicago History Museum in September 2006.


  • History 1
  • Building 2
  • Activities 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Much of the early collection of the Chicago Historical Society was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, but like the city, the museum rose from the ashes. Among its many documents which were lost in the fire was a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, hand-written by Abraham Lincoln.[2] After the fire, the Society began collecting new materials, which were stored in a building owned by J. Young Scammon, a prominent lawyer and member of the society. However, the building and new collection were again destroyed by fire in 1874. The Chicago Historical Society built a fireproof building on the site of its pre-1871 building at 632 North Dearborn Street. The replacement building opened in 1896 and, after housing the collection for thirty-six years, was used for several purposes and remained vacant for periods until being transformed into a nightclub in 1985. This impressively massive Richardsonian Romanesque building remained a nightclub for years until closing in 2014, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

1896–1932 home of the Chicago Historical Society.

In 1920, the Society purchased the large history collection of Charles F. Gunther with the intention of changing its focus from only a research institution into a public museum. Many of the items in Gunther's collection, in addition to Chicago, were related to Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. These include Lincoln's deathbed and several furniture pieces from the room where he died in Petersen House and clothing he and wife Mary Todd Lincoln allegedly wore the evening of his assassination.[3][4]

In 2010 the museum was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.[5]


East facade of current museum (built 1932).

After 36 years in the Henry Ives Cobb structure on North Dearborn Street, the museum and library moved to the current structure in Lincoln Park. The current home of the museum was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and constructed in 1932 by the WPA, with the aim of creating an expanded public museum.

The 1932 Federal-style structure has been expanded twice. The first addition, clad in limestone, opened in 1972 and was designed by Alfred Shaw and Associates. The second addition, designed by Holabird and Root, was made in 1988 and included refacing the earlier expansion in red brick to give a unified look to all three portions of the building. Both expansions occurred on the west side of the 1932 structure, leaving intact its original porticoed entrance facing Lincoln Park.[6] The main entrance and reception hall, however, was moved to the new western addition facing Clark street. The 1988 extension, in addition to expanded exhibition galleries, also contains the museum's store and public cafe.


The museum explores both Chicago and American history. Exhibitions draw primarily on the museum's own collection, which numbers approximately 22 million holdings. Chicago: Crossroads of America is a 16,000-square-foot space that explores the city's development and its relationship to and influence on American history. Nearly 600 objects document the people and events of the past 200 years. Facing Freedom focuses on eight American conflicts over freedom from the 1850s to the 1970s. The Abraham Lincoln alcoves highlight the sixteenth president's election, his leadership during the Civil War, and his assassination. The adjoining Portrait Gallery features an installation on Chicago during the time of Lincoln. The Sensing Chicago exhibition invites children to use their senses to discover the past. The Lobby displays museum treasures, including a 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo lowrider. The newly restored dioramas are housed in the Tawani Foundation Diorama Hall. The Chicago dioramas feature Chicago's rise from a desolate frontier outpost to the bustling city that hosted the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Chicago Room, which overlooks the plaza in Lincoln Park behind the museum building, displays a collection of stained glass.

Temporary exhibitions feature objects and artifacts from the collection, covering everything from Chicago art to the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Chicagoans to the city's fashion history. The Community Gallery sheds light on one Chicago community at a time. Unexpected Chicago showcases a single artifact, which also becomes a subject of the museum's blog. On October 14, 2013, the Chicago History Museum announced a project asking the public to furnish ideas for a future exhibition and reducing the most-often-submitted ideas to one assignment through a series of public votes. According to the American Alliance of Museums, this is the first crowdsourcing project allowing the public to give an exhibition assignment to an American museum.

South Side Elevated Railroad car 1.
Pioneer, the first locomotive to operate in Chicago.

On January 19, 2006, the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago 'L' system in 1893 was transported to its new display location at the Chicago History Museum. Passengers could ride the 1893 'L' from the Loop to Hyde Park station for 5 cents to attend the World's Columbian Exposition upon the line's opening. The vehicle, known as L Car #1, was cosmetically restored to its 1893 appearance before being transported to the museum where it was lifted into an opening created through a wall on the museum's second floor. The car's interior features include mahogany and rattan seats and etched glass windows. The L car joins the Pioneer, the first locomotive to operate in Chicago; a redesigned exhibition space to showcase the car and locomotive opened on September 30, 2006, as part of a larger remodeling project.[7]

The Museum houses Chicago's most important collection of materials related to local history. The extensive research library includes books and other published materials, manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, and photos. It is open to the public, including students working on school projects. The costume collection numbers more than 50,000 pieces and dates from the 18th century to the present. It contains numerous couture pieces, items created by well-known Chicago manufacturers and designers, and garments worn by notable residents.[8]

The Museum offers a variety of programs, publications, and online resources related to Chicago and American history. This includes print and online editions of its collaborative effort the Encyclopedia of Chicago. The Museum's Chicago Fire mobile app has content equivalent to a 400-page book with more than 350 illustrations, drawn from the museum's collection. The app also offers of 10 distinct Chicago areas and 54 fire-related landmarks. The app uses GPS guidance that helps the user view photos of nearby sites from the era of the Great Chicago Fire. The Museum also publishes Chicago History magazine. Written by historians and heavily illustrated, this publication focuses on Chicago's complex past and the people who have shaped it.

Every year, the Chicago History Museum recognizes important Chicagoans and Chicago organizations with its Making History Awards.

A broadside from the collection that circulated after the Great Chicago Fire.

See also


  1. ^ 2012-13 Annual Report. June 2013. p. 27. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  2. ^ "Chicago Historical Society to Opens Its Home".  
  3. ^ Ted Knutson. "Believe it or not, museum collections tell a story". Chicago Tribune. July 27, 1984. LF16.
  4. ^ "The Bloody Evidence". Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  5. ^ "Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame". 
  6. ^ "About the Building". Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  7. ^ "Car 1 at Chicago History Museum gallery". Chicago Summer 2006. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  8. ^ "The Costume Collection" (PDF). 21 May 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-14. 

External links

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