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Press

OUR HISTORY

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) was founded in 1933 and has celebrated more than 85 years of “inspiring the inventive genius” in our more than 190 million guests. Below are some highlights of our hands-on history and a peek at the amazing exhibits, experiences and memories that make MSI so unique.

1893 The Palace of Fine Arts, the Museum’s current building, is constructed for the World’s Columbian Exposition, which opened the same year.

1911 Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist and chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Company, visits Munich’s Deutsches Museum with his young son. The boy is captivated by the science museum where exhibits move, and visitors are encouraged to push buttons and work levers. The experience sparks Julius Rosenwald’s determination to bring a similar institution to his hometown of Chicago.

1926 Rosenwald pledges $3 million toward the creation of an industrial museum in Chicago and rallies the city’s business leaders in support of the project. Rosenwald dreams that the new museum will inspire the inventive genius in its guests, encouraging the next generation of engineers, scientists and doctors. Rosenwald identifies the old Palace of Fine Arts building in Jackson Park as a home for the planned Museum.

1933 On June 19, MSI opens its great doors for the first time. It is the first museum in North America to feature interactive exhibits. One of the Museum’s first hands-on displays is the Coal Mine.

1942 MSI opens its first Christmas Around the World celebration as a salute to the Allied nations in World War II.

1943 The 3,500-square-foot Santa Fe Model Railroad layout opens to explain the integration of the railroad with the country’s industry and agriculture. The exhibit is so popular it remains at MSI for the next 60 years, when The Great Train Story opens.

1949 Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle becomes part of the Museum’s permanent collection.

1950 MSI’s giant walk-through heart opens to guests. It is constructed from plaster and chicken wire, and guests can stroll through the 16-foot structure to discover how the heart works. It quickly becomes a Museum favorite. 

1954 The U-505 Submarine arrives at the Museum. Guests are able to board the legendary German U-boat whose capture by the United States Navy helped the Allies win World War II. Today, this prized artifact is one of only five U-boats still in existence and the only one in the United States.

1956 The first baby chick is hatched at the Museum. Now located in the Genetics: Decoding Life exhibit, the Baby Chick Hatchery still excites and amazes guests.

1970 Black Creativity begins as a tribute to the culture, heritage and traditions of African Americans in the arts, with a focus on the Juried Art Exhibition and live performances.

1971 The Apollo 8 capsule arrives and becomes the centerpiece of a growing space exhibit at MSI. 

1984 Black Creativity expands to celebrate the contributions of African Americans in the sciences, featuring an exhibit and educational programs.

1986 The Henry Crown Space Center opens.

1992 MSI lands a United Boeing 727 aircraft at Chicago’s Meigs Field. The 727 is later towed across Lake Michigan and over Lake Shore Drive to the Museum, where it is cantilevered to the east balcony as part of the Take Flight exhibit.

1994 Take Flight officially opens to the public as a permanent exhibit, explaining commercial flight and allowing guests to experience a simulated takeoff and landing. 

1998 MSI opens an underground parking garage. The construction allows the Museum to restore its magnificent front lawn, which had previously been a parking lot. The newly conserved Pioneer Zephyr also opens and is showcased in its new exhibit area next to the garage.

2000 MSI opens the blockbuster Titanic exhibition and is the first institution to display artifacts from a recent dive to the legendary ship.

2002 The Great Train Story, a 3,500-square-foot model train exhibit that explores rail operations in America, opens. The permanent display replaces the beloved model railroad exhibit and features more than 20 trains racing along 1,400 feet of track on a cross-country trip between Chicago and Seattle.

2003 The Museum celebrates its 70th birthday and having welcomed more than 160 million guests in its history. The permanent exhibit and technological wonder ToyMaker 3000 opens, featuring an automated assembly line of 12 robots that make 300 toy tops an hour.

Live From the Heart debuts and gives Chicago high school students the chance to imagine themselves as cardiologists-in-training by participating in open-heart surgery live via video conference with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight, a group builds a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer and attempts to fly it on the Museum’s front lawn on Sept. 20. The plane never took off due to lack of wind. The replica—a 40-foot-wide biplane—is now part of MSI’s permanent collection.

2004 In April, as part of the largest restoration effort in the Museum’s history, the U-505 German submarine is moved almost 1,000 feet and lowered into its new home on the northeast side of the Museum.

2005 In June, the new U-505 Submarine exhibit opens to the public. The Museum’s prized vessel is now part of an indoor, 35,000-square-foot interactive exhibit that tells the story of its dramatic capture. 

Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies, an exhibit that had awed more than 16 million people around the world with the complexity of the human body, makes its Midwest debut at MSI in February.

2006 MSI develops and opens Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor Genius. This exhibit is the most comprehensive exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci to be presented in the United States.

2007 The Museum opens a renovated Transportation Gallery, which interprets the history of flight in a new, spectacular overhead display. The Farm exhibit becomes Farm Tech, a modernized exhibit addressing current farming technologies and improvements, and the Henry Crown Space Center is renovated to include new exhibits, interactive units and displays on the history and future of space travel. 

The Wanger Family Fab Lab opens, one of the first in the world and the first to be located in a museum.

2008 MSI’s 75th anniversary is celebrated throughout the year with a special six-day celebration held in June. The landmark year is also heralded with original, world-premiere temporary exhibits including The Glass Experience, an exploration of the science and art behind glass and glassmaking; and Smart Home: Green + Wired, a three-story, eco-friendly exhibit home built on the Museum’s property.

In April, MSI announces its $205 million capital campaign, the largest since its inception, and its new vision: to inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering. To support this vision, the Museum’s capital campaign will help create four iconic new exhibits and a wealth of education programs for its new Center for the Advancement of Science Education (CASE).

2009 MSI hosts the world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition from April through September. YOU! The Experience, a 15,000-square-foot iconic permanent exhibit about human health and wellness, opens in October. 

2010 MSI reveals a new logo, the first new logo in more than 10 years, in February. 

In March, the two-story Science Storms opens, revealing the extraordinary science behind some of nature’s most powerful and compelling phenomena. The stunning exhibition includes a 40-foot indoor, interactive tornado and a giant Tesla coil that produces lightning.

In October, the Museum welcomes its first roommate in the innovative Month at the Museum program. After receiving 1,500 applications from around the world, Chicagoan Kate McGroarty won the chance to live at MSI 24/7 and share her adventures with guests and the world through social media.

2011 In October, the Museum welcomes its second roommate in Month at the Museum 2. 

2012 In March, MSI hosts the world premiere of MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition based off of Discovery Channel’s Emmy®-nominated series MythBusters.

2013 In March, MSI opens The Art of the Bicycle, featuring historic bikes from the Museum’s collection as well as some of the most cutting-edge bicycles on the market today.

In June, the Museum celebrates its 80th anniversary with the 80 at 80 exhibit, which showcases 80 unique objects from the Museum’s collection that help tell the story of innovation and progress.

In September, the Museum opens Future Energy Chicago, a 7,200-square-foot exhibition where students, families and guests take a fresh and dynamic look at our energy choices through a multi-player simulation that allows them to create their own solutions.

2014 In October, MSI opens Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze, which explains the mathematical patterns that surround us in nature and features a giant mirror maze that guests can navigate.

2015 In May, MSI opens the world-premiere temporary exhibition Robot Revolution, which features more than 40 robots from all over the world to show how robots will work, play and live with us in the future. The exhibit, developed in house by the MSI team, tours the country starting in 2016.

2016 The Museum opens Brick by Brick, an exhibit created by the MSI team that allows guests to explore the power of play through awe-inspiring LEGO® structures constructed by LEGO® Certified Professional and Chicago native Adam Reed Tucker. 

2017 Extreme Ice opens in March, revealing how climate change is dramatically altering the face of our planet through time-lapse footage and photography from James Balog.

In November, Christmas Around the World returns for its 75th anniversary. Over 50 trees decorated by volunteers dazzle guests on the Museum’s Main Floor as a celebration of Chicago’s diverse ethnic communities and holiday traditions.

2018 MSI hosts temporary exhibits The Science Behind Pixar and Turn Back the Clock, a look at the Doomsday Clock and the issues of nuclear weapons and climate change. The Spring Make Festival provides events and experiences around hands-on making and creativity. The Columbian Ball in October welcomes the Apollo 8 astronauts and celebrates the 50th anniversary of their historic mission around the moon.

2019 Wired to Wear debuts at MSI with a Jet Suit flight on the front lawn. This first-ever exhibit dedicated to wearable technology was created by MSI's in-house team. Makers United invites guests to connect with their inner maker and make a piece of wearable technology.  

In October, MSI announces the largest gift in its history, $125 million from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund.

2020 Black Creativity celebrates its 50th anniversary and today reaches over 10,000 students, their teachers, and their families through exhibits and culturally relevant STEM education programs.

David Mosena announces his retirement in January, and Chevy Humphrey is named the new president and CEO in October.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MSI closes from March through July, and again in November through February 2021.