“Why is the Museum of Science & Industry Changing Its Name?” by S.M. O’Connor

      Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) announced yesterday, Thursday, October 3, 2019 that the Board of Trustees had voted to accept a $125,000,000 gift from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund.  M.S.I. executives and board members felt it would consequently be appropriate to change the Museum of Science and Industry’s name to the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.  A multi-billionaire, Mr. Griffin is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of Citadel, Inc., a Chicago-based hedge fund.  His gift is the largest in the history of the science and technology museum, and one of the largest gifts to any cultural institution in Chicago.

      Griffin previously gave The Field Museum of Natural History $16,900,000.  At the time I wrote about the creation of the Griffin Dinosaur Experience, Forbes estimated that Mr. Griffin was worth $9,900,000,000, but Forbes now estimates he is worth $12,600,000,000.  He is the single richest person in Illinois.  Before this gift, he had already given away close to $1,000,000,000, about one-third of it to non-profits here in Chicago.  He has also spent approximately $700,000,000 on the acquisition of residences in New York City, London, and Palm Beach.

      “We are honored to receive this incredibly generous gift, which helps ensure that MSI remains a vital resource for science learning in the 21st century,” David Mosena, President and C.E.O. of the M.S.I., stated in a press release.  “Our mission has always been to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. This gift will allow us to continue providing the kind of innovative experiences and programs that work to achieve that mission for generations to come.”

      In a public statement, Mr. Mosena wrote, “Since 1933, the Museum’s mission has been to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. We work hard every day to champion science, using our world-class exhibits and hands-on experiences to entice and engage our guests with the fundamentals of science and the innovations that will shape the future. We proudly serve the Chicago community by remaining a place where all can celebrate and be inspired by science.”

This generous gift from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund enables us to sustain that work. These funds will allow us to continue providing the kind of experiences and programs that MSI has become known for. It will ensure that we can keep creating exhibits that open eyes and minds to what the future might hold and show young people how they can help create the world that awaits.

The Museum takes its role as a resource for science learning incredibly seriously. We consider it an honor to serve everyone in and around Chicago, and are especially passionate about connecting young people to scientific concepts that will help them build the foundation they need to be at the forefront of the next generation of STEM leaders.

We look forward to remaining a vital resource for science education for the generations to come, and are honored that the Museum has been recognized with a gift of such magnitude.

      Most of the money will go into the endowment to secure the M.S.I.’s long-term future, but some of it will go toward the establishment of the Pixel Studio.  In the press release (and in a footnote to Mr. Mosena’s public statement), the M.S.I. described the Pixel Studio as a “state-of-the-art digital gallery and performance space that will be the only experience of its kind in North America.”  Steve Johnson reported in the Chicago Tribune that M.S.I. Board Chairman Chris Crane explained the endowment would double in size as a result of the gift.  The gift has pushed the M.S.I.’s “Limitless” capital campaign past the $300,000,000 mark.

      “The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates our greatest scientific and commercial achievements and ignites the imaginations of all who visit,” stated Griffin. “As one of the most important institutions of science in the world, the Museum’s impact extends far beyond its halls. I am honored to support MSI’s mission to inspire the next generation of scientific exploration and innovation.”

      “MSI has diligently worked to maximize opportunities for its guests to be hands-on across a wide range of scientific concepts to help people realize the broad spectrum of career paths available,” stated Chris Crane, President and C.E.O. of Exelon Corporation, as well as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the M.S.I.  “A gift of this magnitude will ensure MSI can continue to empower Chicago’s youth with the foundation they need to be at the forefront of the next generation of STEM leaders.”

      “At MSI, we have a proud history of using a sense of awe to entice and engage our guests, helping STEM concepts come to life in ways they never imagined,” continued Mosena. “We undertook this campaign to continue evolving the MSI experience while inspiring our audiences to see themselves as active participants in creating the world of tomorrow.”

      Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), President of Sears, Roebuck & Company, founded the Museum of Science and Industry in 1926 through The Commercial Club of Chicago, of which he was a member.  Mr. Rosenwald wanted Chicago to have a large science and industrial museum modeled on the Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik (German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.[1]  [The Commercial Club had earlier sponsored Burnham’s Plan of Chicago (1909).[2] It had also sponsored the Chicago Zoological Society, which founded the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois.] Rosenwald’s fellow trustees named the museum the Rosenwald Industrial Museum in his honor, but he was a modest man and asked them to remove his name.  In 1929, the trustees changed the name to the Museum of Science and Industry.

      The Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the Palace of Fine Arts.  Also known as the Fine Arts Building, it is the last palace from the White City fairgrounds of Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), to remain standing in Jackson Park.[3]       The façade is modeled on temples standing on the Acropolis of Athens.  Upon the exposition board naming him Director of Public Works for the World’s Columbian Exposition, on October 30, 1890, Daniel Hudson Burnham, Sr. (1846-1912) named his partner John Wellborn Root, Sr. (1850-1891) the supervising architect and the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903) the supervising landscape architect. Root died after he paid a visit to Jackson Park on a stormy night. Burnham replaced him with Charles B. Atwood (1849-1895) as Chief Architect of the World’s Columbian Exposition and Atwood personally designed the Illinois Central Railroad Station, the Peristyle of the Court of Honor, and the Palace of Fine Arts.[4] The neoclassical design Atwood developed for the Palace of Fine Arts combined Roman domes with Ionic Greek columns, statues, and frieze panels.

      He borrowed the Central Pavilion’s north portico from a painting of a fanciful art museum by Paul-Albert Besnard (1849-1934) that had won the Prix de Rome. Atwood had two assistants. Alexandre Sandier had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under Besnard.  Ernest R. Graham (1868-1936), coordinated much of Atwood’s work on-site, including aspects of the Palace of Fine Arts.  The Palace of Fine Arts (P.F.A.) held art treasures from around the world and to protect them at a time when many people could recall the Great Fire of 1871, unlike the other palaces of the White City, the P.F.A. had a brick substructure under its staff superstructure.[5]

      Initially, the South Park Commission (S.P.C.) wanted to tear down the Palace of Fine Arts after The Field Museum vacated it in 1920, but sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936), an instructor at The Art Institute of Chicago, rallied groups in support of restoring the building. [The South Park District was one of twenty-two park districts in Chicago that merged in 1934 to form the Chicago Park District.]  In 1921, J.H. Wade conducted a technical survey of the building with the support of a committee of the Illinois branch of the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.), which worked with the S.P.C. At the time, the interested parties estimated the cost of restoring the P.F.A. and providing heating and electrical lighting to be $1,600,000. The building itself was valued at $3,000,000 and it was doubtful it could be replicated in 1922 for less than $10,000,000. On Friday, June 9, 1922, when the A.I.A. held its convention in Chicago for the first time in fourteen years, they held a dinner banquet under the dome of Central Pavilion of the P.F.A. to draw attention to the sorry state of the building.

Mrs. Albion Headburg (1878-1961) chaired the Art Committee of the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs, which raised $7,000 to restore a small part of the Palace of Fine Arts to show what it could look like. They changed the mind of the S.P.C., which asked voters to approve the sale of $5,000,000 in bonds to finance restoration of the P.F.A. to serve as a science museum, trade school, sculptural art museum, and convention center.  In 1925, Dr. Charles R. Richards, author of The Industrial Museum and Director of the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums), attested to the suitability of the P.F.A. as the future home of a science museum.

      The design of the restoration and reconstruction of Atwood’s staff superstructure and brick substructure fell to the architectural firm employed by the S.P.C.: Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White – principally to Alfred Phillips Shaw (1895-1970).[6] He also designed the Art Moderne interior. Upon the death of Messrs. Probst and White, another firm, Shaw, Naess, and Murphy, undertook completion of the new interior’s design, beginning in January of 1937.  [Shaw had broken off from Graham, Anderson, Probst and White.]  He also replaced Graham on the M.S.I.’s Board of Supervisors.  The façade and substructure underwent restoration and reconstruction between 1929 and 1931. The entry floor was raised to accommodate a ground floor.  When it became apparent $5,000,000 would be insufficient to restore the building, Mr. Rosenwald pledged to pay for completion of the project, in addition to his endowment pledge of $3,000,000.  It is important to remember this is the case, because once Rosenwald and his heirs agreed to finance completion of the construction work, there was no question that the science museum would have to share space with any other organizations within the P.F.A. (except on the museum’s terms).

      The Museum of Science and Industry opened in three stages between 1933 and 1940.  The very first opening ceremony came on June 19, 1933, when the North & South Courts of the Central Pavilion were opened for the press, the Rosenwalds, Commercial Club members, the S.P.C., and Edward J. Kelly (1876-1950), Mayor of Chicago (1933-1947) and President of the South Park Board of Commissioners (1924-1933).  It opened to the public on July 1, 1933.  These events coincided with Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34), which opened on June 1, 1933.

      Between 1938 and 1940, the Central Pavilion was closed to the public while the interior was installed. The West Pavilion opened on March 1, 1938.  During this period, the Museum Library and some exhibits were accessible in the West Pavilion.[7] There was a preview of the Museum of Science and Industry as a whole on April 14, 1939. Former Pennsylvania Senator George Wharton Pepper delivered the speech “The Happy Pair” when The Commercial Club of Chicago hosted a preview of the Museum Opening attended by industrialists, financiers, politicians, and representatives from museums in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City. On October 26, 1940, the Museum of Science and Industry finally fully opened to the public, after a press preview on October 24, 1940.

      Last year, the Museum of Science and Industry had 1,560,000 visitors, and was second-most visited museum after The Art Institute of Chicago, which had 1,620,000 visitors.  Often stylized as the “Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago” or the “Museum of Science + Industry” the institution is located at the northern end of the Chicago Park District’s Jackson Park, on the south side of 57th Street, between Lake Shore Drive to the east and Cornell Drive to the west, in the East Hyde Park neighborhood of the Hyde Park Community Area (Community Area #41) on the South Side of Chicago.

      Normally, the M.S.I. is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Please note that the Museum of Science and Industry will close early, at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 5, 2019 for the annual Columbian Ball.  The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.  The Website is https://www.msichicago.org/ and the phone number is (773) 684-1414.


[1] Please note that at the time Waldemar Kaempffert (1877-1956), the first Director of the Museum, began to bring Julius Rosenwald’s vision into reality, he translated the Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik as “German Museum of Masterworks of Science and Technology” but today the institution calls itself the “German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology” in English-language version of its Website.

[2] In 1906-09, Burnham and assistant Edward H. Bennett drafted The Plan of Chicago with the financial support of Chicago’s Merchants Club, which merged with The Commercial Club of Chicago in 1907.  The report, published in 1909, circulated amongst Commercial Club members and public institutions, was adopted by the Chicago Common Council at the urging of Mayor Fred Busse (1866-1914).

[3] Some of the other palaces from the White City were disassembled in Chicago and reassembled in state capitals.  The Peristyle and some other structures burnt down on January 8, 1894.  Seven more palaces burnt down on July 5, 1894.  The German building was turned into a bathhouse, was renamed the Liberty Building during the First Great World War, and burned down.  The Japanese Tea House burned down during the Second Great World War.  The Iowa Building became an eyesore and was demolished at the Museum of Science and Industry’s expense.  The Art Institute of Chicago and La Rabida Children’s Hospital also date back to the World’s Columbian Exposition, but neither of those buildings were part of the White City.

[4] There are 19th Century sources that state the Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Root and Atwood, but Root’s Second Empire-style design work was not incorporated by Atwood.

[5] The other palaces were made of wood or steel framing clad in a kind of plaster known as “staff.” Staff is a combination of plaster of paris, hemp fibers, and Portland cement.

[6] Other buildings designed by A.P. Shaw include the Merchandise Mart, the Civic Opera House, the Morton wing of The Art Institute of Chicago, the original McCormick Place, and the Continental Plaza Hotel.

[7] For most of the M.S.I.’s history, though, the Museum Library was on the balcony of the Central Pavilion’s South Court.  The Museum Library, then known as the Kresge Library, closed in 1996.  The Archives absorbed collections not donated to The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, Illinois.

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