Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum

The Chicago History Museum

‍The Chicago History Museum, previously known as the Chicago Historical Society, is a treasure trove for history enthusiasts and curious explorers alike. Established in 1856, this museum is deeply rooted in the city’s past, offering a unique vantage point to examine Chicago’s evolution and its influence on American history.

The Museum’s Origins

The museum traces its origins back to the middle of the 19th century. It was established with the aim to study and interpret the history of Chicago. The society that founded the museum, the Chicago Historical Society (CHS), was formed in April 1856. The museum was located in several different places before finding a permanent home in Lincoln Park in the 1930s.

Chicago History Museum

The Fire and Rise from the Ashes

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was a devastating event that resulted in a significant loss of the museum’s first collection. Among the lost items was the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, donated by President Abraham Lincoln. However, this calamity did not halt the society’s mission. Like the city itself, the museum rose from the ashes, collecting new materials that were housed in a building owned by J. Young Scammon, a prominent lawyer and member of the society.

The Museum Today

The Chicago History Museum today is located at 1601 North Clark Street, at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. The museum’s building, a masterpiece designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, & White, was built in 1932 by the Works Progress Administration. The building has been expanded twice since its initial construction, with the most recent addition completed in 1988.

The Museum’s Collection

The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and multimedia presentations. The collection, which numbers approximately 22 million items, includes a diverse range of artifacts, such as a piece of the original Fort Dearborn and the first locomotive to operate in Chicago. The museum’s extensive research library is open to the public and is a goldmine for students, researchers, and history buffs.

Exhibitions and Displays

The museum offers both permanent and temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibition, Chicago: Crossroads of America, explores the city’s development and its relationship with and influence on American history. The exhibition utilizes nearly 600 objects to document the people and events of the past 200 years.

Another notable exhibition is Facing Freedom, which 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.

Activities and Programs

The Chicago History Museum is not just a place to view artifacts; it’s a site of active learning. 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.

Chicago History Museum

The Museum’s Role in the Community

The museum plays a crucial role in the community, recognizing important Chicagoans and Chicago organizations with its Making History Awards every year. It also hosts various public events and programs, making it a hub of learning, inspiration, and civic engagement.

The Museum’s Future Plans

The museum is always evolving and expanding its reach. For instance, in 2013, it launched a project that invited the public to contribute ideas for a future exhibition.

Visiting the Museum

Visiting the Chicago History Museum is a rewarding experience for both locals and tourists. The museum is accessible by bus and the Chicago ‘L’ train. Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits, participate in interactive displays, and even grab a bite at the North & Clark Café located on the premises.

The Museum’s Impact

The Chicago History Museum is more than just a museum; it’s a testament to the resilience and spirit of Chicago. It offers a unique perspective on the city’s past and present, providing valuable insights into the people, events, and ideas that have shaped this dynamic metropolis. The museum continues to inspire and educate, preserving Chicago’s rich history for future generations.

The Chicago History Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in understanding the history of Chicago and its impact on American history. Its extensive collection, immersive exhibitions, and engaging programs offer a comprehensive and enlightening view of the city’s past. Whether you’re a history buff, a student, or just a curious visitor, the museum offers a unique and enriching experience that is sure to leave you with a deeper appreciation for the Windy City.  For more information you can visit the museum’s website here.

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