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Museum of Science and Industry

Get details on the Museum of Science and Industry, including history and exhibits.

The Museum of Science and Industry chronicles the inventive mind. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
The Museum of Science and Industry chronicles the inventive mind.

With more than 35,000 artifacts and nearly 14 acres of exhibits, the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. Located in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts.

Among the museum's renowned exhibits are a German World War II submarine (U-505), the first diesel-powered stainless steel train, a NASA space capsule from the Apollo 8 mission and a 3,500-square-foot model of a railroad.

According to the Museum of Science and Industry's official Web site, the museum has welcomed 175,000 million guests in its 75 years.


Julius Rosenwald, one of Chicago's wealthiest philanthropists, founded the Museum of Science and Industry. Rosenwald, who was the president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., visited a German science museum with his son and was captivated by his son's enthusiasm for the exhibits, which allowed visitors to push buttons and raise levers. Rosenwald returned to the United States and decided to open a similar museum in Chicago.

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Rosenwald pledged more than $7 million to the museum's development. The museum building was designed by Charles B. Atwood for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Atwood took his inspiration from Greek architecture.

After a long period of development, the Museum of Science and Industry opened its doors on June 19, 1933. It was the first museum in North America with interactive exhibits, including a reproduction of an Illinois coal mine in which visitors could descend 50 feet into a real mineshaft.

Popular Exhibits

As of 2009, the Museum of Science and Industry's exhibits included:

  • A U-505 Submarine. On June 4, 1944, this German submarine was assigned to West Africa to search for American and Allied ships. The USS Chatelain, a destroyer, blasted the submarine out of hiding. The U-505 was so fierce it had nearly changed the outcome of World War II. Visitors at the Museum of Science and Industry may step inside this German submarine, which is the only one of its class in the United States. The submarine now serves as a memorial for the 55,000 American soldiers who died during the war.
  • All Aboard the Silver Streak. On May 26, 1934, the Pioneer Zephyr made a record-breaking ride from Denver to Chicago. Now on display at the museum, visitors can step inside the train and enjoy a 20-minute guided tour in which they explore the smoking, baggage and passenger areas. Visitors may also view footage from 1934 and glimpse into the engineer's cab.
  • Coal Mine. The first interactive exhibit in the museum, the Coal Mine has been on permanent exhibition since 1933. It was and still is one of the most popular sites at the Museum of Science and Industry. Visitors experience the mining industry first-hand as they travel down into a mineshaft, watching as coal that has been mined is placed in trains, weighed and placed onto a hopper, and brought to the surface.
  • Fast Forward. Visitors get a glimpse of the future in this multimedia exhibit. They meet inventors working on incredible ideas, such as instant-messaged hugs that can be felt and food that is made by inkjet printers.

Giving Back to the Museum

The Museum of Science and Industry is actively seeking volunteers who support the museum in several capacities. Volunteers may work at an exhibit giving tours of the U-505, for example. Helping-hand volunteers stuff envelopes, collate and file important papers, and assist with other duties needed to keep the museum operating efficiently.

The museum has volunteer programs for teenagers (ages 14 to 17) and adults (age 18 and up). Volunteers must submit an application and commit to 40 hours a year. Volunteers enjoy benefits such as free admission to the museum and discounts on food and retail items. Prospective volunteers can download a volunteer application from the Museum of Science and Industry's Web site.

People who want to help but cannot volunteer may become members of the museum. Applications may be filled out on the Museum of Science and Industry's Web site. Donations of funds from individuals and groups are also welcomed.

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