There are many examples of a Museum of Science and Industry around the country. But the one in Chicago is the oldest and unquestionably the best museum of its kind in the world. On three floors, covering 350,000 sq ft (32,520 sq m) it offers over 800 exhibits that attract 2 million visitors per year.
The building it occupies was built in 1893 for the World Columbian Exposition as a Palace of Fine Arts, the only building that remains from that amazing event. The Beaux Arts style became the standard for classical-style museums everywhere. Initially housing the Field Museum collection, that collection moved to Grant Park in 1921. After a 1926 donation of $3 million by the head of Sears, Roebuck, the Industrial museum was born and opened officially in 1933.
Like most of them, it covers a diverse area, including exhibits about energy, electricity, and the like with hundreds of hands-on displays. The idea may sound new, becoming popular among science museums in the 1970s, but it began at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany in the late 19th century where displays were interactive rather than just for viewing.
Among the energy display, is a reconstruction of a 1933 Illinois coal mine that visitors can descend down 50 feet into. Though one of the earliest exhibits, it remains among the most popular. There’s also a captured WWII German submarine that visitors can walk around and a 3,000 square foot model railroad to play with. If that isn’t interactive enough, try the 20-foot walk-through human heart that allows you to see this vital organ’s working parts.
The Fairy Castle sounds like something that would be out of place in a museum of science. But this nine square foot dollhouse has functional electrical devices and working plumbing. There’s also a working baby chick hatchery that will delight the kids. For older kids, the Apollo 8 Spacecraft is housed there along with a Mercury Space Capsule.
Exhibits change all the time, so any time you visit you’ll see something new. At one time you might see a display of dozens of Da Vinci’s designs. You might be lucky enough to catch the Human Body exhibit showing 20 whole-body plastic, skinless humans with musculature in full view. Or you can catch the CSI Experience and find out all about how the modern scientist-detectives employ forensics to catch criminals.
Upcoming is a Star Wars exhibit that will show visitors props and models from the movies while explaining how some of it might someday become real. You can ride in a hovercraft and try to build your own ‘droid’.
But even the very old displays are still fascinating. There’s a group of Caryatids (Greek statuary) from the original 1893 exposition. These fascinating sculptures formed parts of columns in Greek buildings. Don’t miss the Foucault pendulum from the mid-19th century, a device that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth.
With plenty of choices for food and fun, you can visit many times and still find more to see. Located at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive in famed Hyde Park, details are available at http://www.msichicago.org.