#WhatDoYouCollect Project

Many of us collect objects that hold a special interest for us. These collections can be related to personal experiences or passions for a topic – from shot glasses from all 50 states to kinetic sculpture. MSI collects objects with compelling stories about why and how they were made. The Collections Department shares these stories to inspire guests and help them understand our rapidly changing world.

When we couldn't welcome members to the Museum to tour our collections, we asked members to take us on a virtual tour of their own collections!

Michelle (Ashburn, VA)

What do you collect?

All things space! Collectibles, memorabilia and toys as well as autographs. If it's spacey - I love to have it for my collection!

When did you start collecting?

I started collecting when I was a young girl - about 5 years old... I fell in love with space that young!

What inspired you to start collecting?

I fell in love with space after watching a space shuttle launch. I feel so fortunate that growing up my Mom was able to bring me to the Museum so I could visit the Henry Crown Space Center. (It's also where she did most of the shopping for my birthday & Christmas!)

MSI's original model railroad was the largest of its kind in the world when it opened in 1941, covering 2,340 sq. ft. and built in Q scale (1:45 scale trains w/ 2-rail O gauge track).

Michael (Chicago, IL)

What do you collect?

I'm a Model Railroader, I have a huge HO & N Scale Amtrak collection, I have a beautiful HO & N Scale of the Amtrak Veterans locomotive, I also collect Union Pacific passenger set.

When did you start collecting?

I started my collection back in 1986.

What inspired you to start collecting?

When I saw the old Santa Fe O Scale Railroad & when I rode the Zephyr from Chicago to Glenwood Springs. This was when each Superliner had a different menu.

Richard (Ottawa, IL)

What do you collect?

Stereoscope viewers and slides

When did you start collecting?

When about seven years of age in 1958, I got a present of a Viewmaster viewer plus reels. Now the topics range from cartoons, to Disneyland, science, and science fiction television shows. In the early 1980's a stereoscope cabinet with approximately twenty slides were found in an antique store in Monroe City, Missouri. We figure the age to be 1869 due to the pie crust woodwork at the top. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law visit antique shops since they are serious collectors of painted soda bottles and they found two boxes of glass stereoscopic slides from Europe with the viewer.

What inspired you to start collecting?

The Viewmaster got me thinking about collecting instruments that can view 3-D images. I also own all of the "We Were There" books since I read every one from the library. The last one was found in a friend's house which just had a small fire. It smelled of smoke and was called "We Were There at the Battle of the Bulge". I like series of stuff.

Eric (Skokie, IL)

What do you collect?

Antique Otis Elevator hardware

When did you start collecting?

Approximately 15 years ago

What inspired you to start collecting?

One of my first jobs was in a Loop office building that still had its original manual elevator equipment. Occasionally I had to move displays around on evenings & weekends, when no operators were present, so a building engineer showed me how to work the elevators. The solid bronze lobby doors took considerable effort to open! 30 years later, I decided to beautify the door to the basement stairs and thought it would be cool to replicate an old Otis elevator, complete with the scissors gate, indicators and controls. I acquired nearly everything through eBay.

Christie (Oak Park, IL)

What do you collect?

Globes from all over time and place. They represent a snapshot of history that I've always found fascinating. In the attached photo you'll see a globe from Russia, one from Estonia, and one from the 1960s that marks orbital patterns from the first manned orbit of earth.

Sandra (Chicago, IL)

What do you collect?

Cookbooks. When I travel, I'll buy a local cookbook as my souvenir of the trip. I try not to buy the fancy commercially produced book. I buy the one produced in the local history museum or community group of some type. This helps give me a picture of the real world of that location. Plus there sometimes are some very fun recipes to try out.

When did you start collecting?

Probably sometime in the 1970's.

What inspired you to start collecting?

I love to travel and I love to cook.

Jan Ellen (Libertyville, IL)

What do you collect?

I have a collection of ornaments/artifacts from 145 countries. Some I have purchased in-country since we travel a good deal. Some have been gifts from fellow travelers. Others are just finds from a variety of sources. I have them displayed on a year-round Christmas tree and three large display cases. In one case, I made nameplates for each country. I also have a database of the items because, after a while, it became more difficult to remember where something came from.

When did you start collecting?

I started collecting in 1979, and I try to add a new country as often as I can.

What inspired you to start collecting?

My brother-in-law was a university professor who took students on a May seminar each year to at least 6 countries. He brought ornaments back for me whenever he traveled. When we started traveling, I wanted something authentic to remember each trip. I always look for an item that represents the country, is handmade whenever possible, is reasonable in both size and price, and speaks to me in some way. When I look at the tree or one of the display cases, the ornaments remind me of our travels.