Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum
Chicago History Museum

Clark Street facade of the Chicago History Museum
Established April 1856

1601 North Clark Street

Chicago, IL 60614
Type History Museum
Director Gary T. Johnson

Chicago History Museum (formerly known as the Chicago Historical Society) was founded in 1856 to study and interpret Chicago's history. It is located in Lincoln Park in a building at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. It was renamed the Chicago History Museum in September, 2006.



Founded in 1856, (about 25 years after Chicago's founding), as the Chicago Historical Society, much of the early collection of the museum was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, but like the city, the museum rose from the ashes. Among its many documents which were lost in the fire was a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, hand-written by Abraham Lincoln.[1] After the fire, the Society began collecting new materials, which were stored in a building owned by J. Young Scammon, a prominent lawyer and member of the Chicago Historical Society. However, the building and new collection were again destroyed by fire in 1874. The Chicago Historical Society built a fireproof building on the site of its pre-1871 building. The replacement building opened in 1896 and, after housing the collection for thirty-six years, was used for many purposes and often remained vacant until being transformed into a nightclub in 1985. This impressively massive Romanesque building is currently the home of the Excalibur nightclub. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

1896-1932 home of the Chicago Historical Society

In 1920, the Society purchased the large history collection of Charles F. Gunther with the intention of changing its focus from a research institution into a public museum. Many of the items in Gunther's collection, in addition to Chicago, were related to Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. These include Lincoln's deathbed and several furniture pieces from the room where he died in Petersen House and clothing he and wife Mary Todd Lincoln allegedly wore the evening of his assassination.[2][3]


East facade of current museum (built 1932)

The current home of the Museum was constructed in 1932 by the WPA to facilitate the aim of creating an expanded public museum. The original Federal-style structure has been expanded twice. The first limestone-clad addition opened in 1972 and was designed by Alfred Shaw and Associates. The second, designed by Holabird and Root, occurred in 1988 and included refacing the earlier expansion in red brick to give a unified look to all three portions of the building. Both expansions occurred on the west side of the 1932 structure leaving the original porticoed entrance facing Lincoln Park intact.[4]


South Side Elevated Railroad car 1
Pioneer, the first locomotive to operate in Chicago

On January 19, 2006, the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago 'L' system in 1893 was transported to its new display location at the Chicago Historical Society. Passengers could ride the 1893 'L' from the Loop to Hyde Park station for 5 cents to attend the World's Columbian Exposition upon the line's opening. The car, known as CTA 1, was cosmetically restored to its 1893 appearance before being transported to the museum where it was lifted into an opening created through a wall on the museum's second floor. The car's interior features include mahogany and rattan seats and etched glass windows. CTA 1 joins Pioneer, the first locomotive to operate in Chicago; a redesigned exhibit space to showcase the car and locomotive opened on September 30, 2006.[5]

The museum also houses Chicago's most important collection of materials related to local history. In addition to the exhibits, the museum continues to house an extensive research library which includes books and other published materials, manuscripts, paintings, sculptures and photos. It is open to the public, including students working on school projects, however it has limited hours which average less than 24 hours per week.

The costume and textile collection numbers over 50,000 pieces and dates from the late 19th Century to the present. It contains extensive couture pieces, items created by well-known Chicago manufacturers and designers and those worn by notable residents.[6] It is believed that this is the second largest collection in the United States behind the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute and the Brooklyn Museum which were combined in January 2009 and numbers over 54,000 items.[7]

In 2007, the museum announced that upon death of the current curator of the Chicago Postcard Museum, it will assume that museum's entire postcard collection depicting various periods of Chicago's history into its collection.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "Chicago Historical Society to Opens Its Home" Chicago Daily Tribune November 1, 1896. p.41.
  2. ^ Ted Knutson. "Believe it or not, museum collections tell a story". Chicago Tribune. July 27, 1984. LF16.
  3. ^ "The Bloody Evidence". Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  4. ^ "About the Building". Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  5. ^ Trains NewsWire (January 24, 2006), Chicago Transit Authority ‘L’ car makes historic move. Retrieved January 26, 2006.
  6. ^ "The Costume Collection". 2008-05-21. Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  7. ^ "Brooklyn Museum announces landmark costume partnership with Metropolitan Museum". 2009-12-16. Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  8. ^ Hoekstra, David (2007-11-24). "Chicago Postcard Museum". Chicago Sun-Times. 

External links

Coordinates: 41°54′43″N 87°37′53″W / 41.911996°N 87.631312°W / 41.911996; -87.631312

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