Museum of Science and Industry

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MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY (MSI) occupies the structure built as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago; until 1920, the site in Jackson Park housed the Field Columbian Museum. Inspired by the hands-on displays at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, Julius Rosenwald, the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Company and a prolific philanthropist, donated several million dollars to found a similar industrial museum for Chicago. When MSI opened to the public on 1 July 1933, most of the building renovations were still incomplete, but a reconstructed southern Illinois coal mine was ready for visitors in the basement.

During the depression of the 1930s, the staff collected spectacular artifacts more successfully than they balanced the budget. It was not until Lenox Lohr became the full-time president (1940–1968) that the museum achieved financial stability. Lohr, former president of the National Broadcasting Company, forged a close relationship between MSI and the companies whose research and products the museum celebrated. Corporations like General Motors and International Harvester signed long-term agreements to develop and sponsor exhibits about achievements in their fields. To assure these companies that their public relations dollars were well spent, Lohr increased museum attendance with interactive displays, blockbuster exhibits such as a lavish "Fairy Castle" donated by the silent-movie star Colleen Moore and a German submarine captured intact during World War II, and annual festivities such as the "Christmas Around the World Celebration," begun in 1941.

Lohr's successors sought to broaden the museum's popular and financial bases. They encouraged attendance by African Americans, Latinos, and girls by running programs featuring their artistic, cultural, and scientific endeavors. They also located noncorporate funds, raising new money from wealthy individuals, private foundations, and the museum's first general admission fee.


Kogan, Herman. A Continuing Marvel: The Story of the Museum of Science and Industry. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.

Pridmore, Jay. Inventive Genius: The History of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Chicago: Museum of Science and Industry, 1996.

Amanda I.Seligman

See alsoScience Museums .