The New Field Museum (5-2-1921)

The move was finished.  Today the Field Museum opened its magnificent new home in Grant Park.

The museum had begun as a glorified attic.  Local boosters had wanted a permanent place to display some of the Columbian Exposition artifacts.  In 1893 they secured a charter for the Columbian Museum of Chicago.


The fair’s Palace of the Fine Arts in Jackson Park was the museum’s first home.  Its name was later changed to the Field Museum, in honor of benefactor Marshall Field.

The Burnham Plan of 1909 called for the museum to be relocated in Grant Park.  The Field trustees agreed–the Jackson Park site was too remote, and the current building needed repairs.  Work on the new museum began in 1917.

And now everything was ready.  The first day was reserved for 8,000 invited guests.  There was no formal ceremony—“speeches and music would have been superfluous,” the Tribune said.  At 2 pm the doors were simply thrown open.


All afternoon the cabs and private cars bounced over the unpaved park roads to the museum.  Pedestrians braved the drizzle and biting wind on the rickety wooden bridge over the Illinois Central tracks.  They came, and they were impressed.  Chicago had never seen a museum like this.

Among the 8,000 visitors were hundreds of children.  They were most impressed of all.

Marshall Field

Marshall Field

“Their eyes grew wider and wider with wonder as they progressed from room to room,” a reporter wrote.  “The mounted birds and prehistoric animals, skeletons, Egyptian coffins and mummies, and other interesting exhibits elicited gasps of surprise from them.  Many a mother or governess had to drag their little charges away.”

The public was admitted the next day.  Regular museum hours were 10 am to 4 pm.  Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday were free.  The other days, a 25-cent admission charge was collected.

The Field Museum’s onetime Jackson Park home remained vacant until the 1930s, when it was rebuilt as the Museum of Science and Industry.  In 1943 the Field Museum was renamed the Chicago Natural History Museum.  That was the name I grew up with.  When I was young, only the old folks talked about the Field Museum.

Then, in 1966, the trustees reversed course.  The building in Grant Park again became the Field Museum.  Getting rid of the Field name had obviously been a mistake.

Are you listening, Macy’s?




5 Responses to “The New Field Museum (5-2-1921)”

  1. 1 Trisha May 2, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Enjoy your articles on how things came to be in Chicago!! Kudos also for the question…….

  2. 2 Joe Hollenkamp May 2, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I heard the original plan to build it near today’s Buckingham Fountain site was rebuffed by Montgomery Ward’s suit. How were that later able to build even closer to the Lake for this building? Was it, perhaps, that it was west of the Lake Shore Drive?

    • 3 J.R. Schmidt May 2, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      Grant Park by Dennis Cremin goes into this question in some detail. Short answer—the Field Museum was built on landfill controlled by the IC Railroad.

      • 4 Garry May 2, 2016 at 4:27 pm

        Except now, all landfill in the lake is controlled by the state & the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which is what thankfully, may prevent that atrocity Lucas wants to stick us with!

      • 5 Joe Hollenkamp May 2, 2016 at 7:08 pm

        Thanks John.

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