As part of the 80th anniversary celebration of the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in June, two events on Sunday, June 23, 2013 will explore MSI’s roots in Chicago’s two World’s Fairs: the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34). The simulations of Chicago World’s Fairs are the popular “Explore the White City” with Professor Lisa M. Snyder of the University of California, Los Angeles and the new “Building a Century of Progress” presentation with the University of Arizona’s Lisa Schrenk.
Dr. Lisa M. Snyder of the Urban Simulation Team, School of the Arts and Architecture at U.C.L.A. will present the latest version of her World’s Columbian Exposition simulation. She is Associate Director of Outreach & Operations for UCLA’s Experiential Technologies Center, and editor of the membership publication of the Los Angeles Conservancy.
In addition to her computer simulation reconstruction of the White City fairgrounds of the World’s Columbian’s Exposition through the U.C.L.A.‘s Urban Simulation Team, Dr. Snyder is also working on the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem for the Israel Antiquities Authority. In the 1990s, she oversaw the creation of a simulation of Trajan’s Forum for the J. Paul Getty Trust, based on the work of James E. Packer, Professor of Classics at Northwestern University and author of Forum of Trajan in Rome.
Every year, when she makes this presentation on the White City, it sells out. This year, the presentation will include a simulation of Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building. This famous structure stood out because it was Arabesque and multicolored whilst most of the other exhibit buildings were neoclassical in style and white in color (hence the fairground’s name, the White City). The presentation will begin at 11:00 a.m.
Lisa D. Schrenk, Associate Professor of Architectural History, teaches at the University of Arizona’s School of Architecture (also known as the College of Architecture + Planning + Landscape Architecture) in Tucson. Her book Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago’s 1933-34 World’s Fair, which I highly recommend, was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2007.
“Catch a Star: Innovative Displays of Architecture and Scientific Technology at Chicago’s 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition” begins at 1:00 p.m. The presentation will include The Hall of Science, the House of Tomorrow, the Radio Flyer pavilion, the Travel and Transport Building, the GM Chevrolet assembly line, the Transparent Man and other medical exhibits.
Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago, will provide expert commentary and insight during both events. Space is limited.
Tickets for either event are $20 for Museum Members. For everyone else, tickets are $25 (in addition to general admission). One can buy tickets online or by calling (773) 684-1414.
Chicago’s two World’s Fairs and the MSI are inextricably interlinked. Charles B. Atwood (1849-1895), the chief architect of the World’s Columbian Exposition designed the Palace of Fine Arts to act as a temporary fine arts museum during the World’s Fair. Whereas most of the other buildings from the White City had been railroad sheds with plaster facades, the Palace of Fine Arts was a brick structure with a plaster façade.
The Columbian Museum of Chicago, which changed its name to the Columbian Field Museum after Marshall Field I (1834-1906) donated $1,000,000, occupied the building from 1894 until 1920. In the latter year it moved to its new home in Burnham Park, paid for with a bequest from Field, on land the Illinois Central Railroad donated to the South Park District (which later merged with twenty-one other park districts to form the Chicago Park District) to fulfill a provision of Field’s will that the land for the new museum building be provided free.
The façade of the Palace of Fine Arts had already begun to fall apart by the time the Field Museum organization departed. The famous local sculptor Lorado Taft wanted to turn the Palace of Fine Arts into a sculptural museum.
Mrs. Albion Headburg organized 6,000 women to donate $1 each to restore a small part of the Palace of Fine Arts to show what it could look like. In 1924, the South Park Commission gained permission through a plebiscite to sell $5,000,000 in bonds to restore the building to serve multiple purposes.
Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), who replaced Alvah C. Roebuck (1864-1948) as the business partner of Richard Sears (1863-1914) in Sears, Roebuck & Company, founded the Museum of Science & Industry in 1926 with the co-operation of The Commercial Club of Chicago (of which he was a member) and the South Park Commission. Rosenwald proposed to transform part or all of the Palace of Fine Arts from the World’s Columbian Exposition into a science museum modeled on the Deutsches Museum in Munich and the Technical Museum in Vienna. He publicly offered $3,000,000 for the project, money that would be necessary to build a new interior, acquire artifacts, and hire a staff.
Most of Atwood’s Beaux-Arts superstructure was recreated in limestone, the original brick substructure of the building underwent restoration, and an Art Moderne interior was built inside the brick substructure. Architect Alfred Shaw (1895-1970) oversaw the restoration of the exterior as well as the design of the new interior.
When Shaw began to work on MSI, he was part of the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White. In 1937, Shaw co-founded the firm Shaw, Naess, and Murphy, and completed his work on MSI at that firm.
The building opened in three stages between 1933 and 1940, as construction work was completed and exhibits were installed. The first opening ceremony of MSI occurred during the first year of A Century of Progress.
A number of scientific or technical exhibits built for A Century of Progress were later donated to MSI or were built to serve both organizations. For example, the Piccard [balloon] Gondola demonstrated at the World’s Fair was later donated to MSI.
A Century of Progress Corporation supplied MSI with its third and fourth presidents – Rufus Cutler Dawes (1867-1940) and Major Lenox Lohr (1891-1968) – as well as staff members, including two business managers and a physics curator. Some of these people went directly from A Century of Progress Corporation to MSI, while others followed Major Lohr from A Century of Progress Corporation to NBC to MSI.
U of I’s famed dermatologist Dr. William Allen Pusey had a hand in planning medical exhibits in both organizations and became a trustee of MSI in 1936. Marion Mercer (1899-1935), Assistant Curator of Geology & Mineral Industries, helped design MSI’s Coal Mine and served as General Manager of the World’s Fair’s Diamond Exhibits Corporation while on leave from MSI.
A Century of Progress also provided multiple opportunities for MSI to honor Rosenwald and various scientists. For example, when Senator Marchese Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) visited A Century of Progress, the MSI Trustees feted him at a luncheon at the Blackstone Hotel. In addition, while the exterior of the Palace of Fine Arts is a Beaux-Arts neoclassical design by Atwood (rebuilt in limestone), the Art Moderne interior design by Shaw is the same style prevalent at A Century of Progress.
 Charles A. Coolidge with the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed the Italian Renaissance-style Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) in Lake Park (now Grant Park) which temporarily housed the World’s Congress Auxiliary in 1893 before the AIC organization moved in. The AIC had paid for the construction of the new building by selling its former home, a Romanesque building at 404 South Michigan Avenue designed by John W. Root of Burnham & Root, to the Chicago Club.
 During this time, the trustees voted to focus on natural history. Industrial and art exhibits from the World’s Columbian Museum that did not fit that vision were given back to their donors or transferred to other museums. The Field Museum of Natural History opened in 1921.
 In addition to founding MSI, Rosenwald’s philanthropy included the donation of half the money to erect three buildings nearby on the Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago. The Rosenwald Fund provided more than $4,000,000 to build over 5,357 public schools, 200 teachers’ homes, 163 workshops, and 5 trade schools for educationally underserved Black schoolchildren in the South. He also paid to add 4,000 libraries to existing schools. These establishments were known as Rosenwald Schools, yet none of them bore his name. Rosenwald provided money to build school buildings on the same basis that Andrew Carnegie provided money to build library buildings or Marshall Field provided money to build a new home for The Field Museum, requiring recipients to provide something toward the construction cost, too. The communities that received Rosenwald Schools often provided land and labor.
 Oskar von Miller, founder of the Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik (German Museum of Masterworks of Science and Technology), had in turn been inspired by the Science Museum in South Kensington, Greater London.
 The same firm had designed the Palace of Fine Arts, the Shedd Aquarium, the Wrigley Building, Marshall Field & Company’s flagship store on State Street (now a Macy’s), and the Field Museum of Natural History.