Field Museum of Natural History
Location Name: Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago, Illinois)
Location Type: Museum (Natural History)
Year Completed: 1921 (Organized in 1893)
Architect(s): William Pierce Anderson and Daniel H. Burnham
The Field Museum of Natural History is one of Chicago’s greatest, and most attended attractions. Its gleaming white exterior is one of the city’s most notable landmarks, marking the southern edge of Grant Park, just off the Lake Michigan shoreline. Unlike most long-standing institutions however, the Field Museum was practically formed overnight. It was in the whirlwind of planning and preparing that took place after Chicago was selected over New York for the site of the World’s Columbian Exposition that the museum was born. Chicago was to build the famed ‘white city’ to host the Exposition, and they needed to impress visitors coming from around the world. In an effort to prove itself to skeptical New Yorkers, Chicago needed to prove its new-found place in the technological, social and cultural worlds. Any city with culture was expected to have an impressive museum; Chicago did not. On 16 September 1893, Illinois approved the charter for the Columbian Museum of Chicago.
Housed in the Exposition’s Palace of Fine Arts, the museum opened to visitors on 02 June 1894 under the new name, the Field Columbian Museum. Thanks to the major contributions of several Chicago benefactors, most notably the museum’s namesake Marshall Field, the museum’s collections were acquired in less than nine months from the signing of its charter. After the Exposition closed, the museum remained. The building used for the Palace of Fine Arts was one of the few Exposition buildings built with a brick substructure beneath its plaster facade. The Field Museum has since moved from its original home in Jackson Park, the building remains today as the home of the Museum of Science and Industry.
In 1905 the museum was renamed once again; it became the Field Museum of Natural History. As part of the 1909 Burnham Plan for Chicago, a plan to remodel Chicago’s downtown district, a new home for the Field Museum was to be built near Grant Park as part of the new Museum Campus. After some debate regarding the placement of the museum, ground was broken at the current location in 1915. In charge of the plan was Daniel H. Burnham and his firms Burnham & Company and Burnham, Graham & Company. Despite the oversight of Burnham, the actual architecture of the Field Museum was left to William Pierce Anderson. Anderson’s neo-classical revival design was inspired by the Erechtheum in Athens as well as the Beaux-Arts style used in the Exposition buildings. The entire exterior of the building was faced with Georgia white marble, detailed with beautiful stonework. Henry Hering was commissioned to complete statues and other decorative features throughout the building. His most known works were the caryatids and lion medallions on the exterior of the building and the four muses holding up the corners of the massive Stanley Field Hall inside. The museum’s new home opened to visitors on 02 May 1921 at a total cost of $7 million.
The Field Museum now encompasses over 480,000 square feet and houses over 21 million specimens. Annual attendance often reaches 1.25 million as visitors from around the world come to view the museum’s impressive collections as well as the world-class exhibits that frequent the museum. While it is hard to single out the greatest piece at the museum, perhaps the most well-known treasure is Sue. In 2000 the museum unveiled Sue, the most compete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil yet discovered. Assembled in the massive Stanley Field Hall (with a replica skull), visitors can view the imposing skeleton’s size and get up close with Sue’s skull (kept separate to allow for better viewing and to reduce the weight burden on the prehistoric skeleton). With countless artifacts on exhibit and educational programs for all ages, the Field Museum continues to prove Chicago’s commitment to culture that began in earnest in 1893.
The Field Museum of Natural History was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.Sources