Chicago History Museum

chicago history museum
Photo Credit: Flickr — Zol87 | CC by 2.0

Did you know that Chicago was named after an onion? Or that the remote control and 16-inch softball were both invented in Chicago? You may think you know everything you could want to know about the Windy City, but there is always something to learn at the Chicago History Museum. Chicago has a rich, deep history, from its Native American origins to a fire that destroyed most of the city to a city that campaigned for the Olympics and lost. Whatever you want to know about Chicago, you can surely find it at the History Museum, and probably have some fun while you’re at it.

You can start on the first floor exploring the dioramas exhibit which displays scenes from Chicago history such as the Chicago Fire and the World’s Fair of 1893. Descriptions accompany the scenes with supplemental information about the event or time period. Next, wander over to “Sensing Chicago,” an exhibit where you can use all five senses to experience Chicago. You can smell that onion Chicago is named after or what Chicago smelled like when it was surrounded by stockyards (though I wouldn’t recommend it), or ride a bicycle to simulate what it felt like to ride one over Chicago’s original cobblestone streets. This interactive exhibit is a lot of fun and is sure to be a favorite of the kids. You can even assemble a giant Chicago hot dog!

Journey upstairs to “Chicago: Crossroads of America” and step inside an old L train car. Find out what it was like to ride one of those cars to the World’s Fair in 1893. Understand more about Chicago’s crises, economic growth, and the neighborhoods that make Chicago a city of neighborhoods. There is also a large display of Chicago inventions; it’s amazing how many great things came out of Chicago that are so important to us today. Many of the displays are interactive, allowing visitors to feel more in touch with Chicago history. You can even visit a Jazz club! Well, a fake one at least, where you can listen to jazz music, learn about the origins of blues and jazz in Chicago, and “meet” musicians. Just outside the club, you can also read about the origins of the Playboy empire and see some original artifacts. For sports fans there is also a display of famous sports memorabilia and history, including a pair of Michael Jordan’s shoes.

The museum also has rotating temporary exhibits. When I went in May 2010, they had an exhibit called “Lincoln Park: Block by Block” detailing the history of one of Chicago’s oldest neighborhoods. As a lifetime Chicago resident, I still learn from this museum every time I visit. It’s full of great information and you are sure to learn a thing or two — always good to brush up on your trivia. And make sure to give yourself enough time to wander through the museum at your leisure; there is nothing worse than having to leave when you feel that you haven’t seen everything.

Basic Info:
Address: 1601 N. Clark Street
Phone: (312) 642-4600

Getting There:
L: Brown Line (Sedgwick), Red Line (Clark/Division)
Bus: #11, 22, 36, 72, 73, 151, 156
Driving: From 90/94 take the North Avenue Exit. Go east on North Avenue 2 miles to Clark Street.
From Lake Shore Drive, exit at North Avenue/Lasalle Street. Go two blocks to Clark Street.
Parking Available for $9 with validation.

Admission Hours & Prices:

Monday-Saturday 9:30pm-4:30pm
Sunday 12am-5pm
Closed on Christmas Day

Adults Seniors Students

General Admission $14.00 $12.00 $12.00
General Admission for Chicago Residents $13.00 $11.00 $12.00

Children 12 & under are free. Admmission includes two different audio tours.
The Chicago History Museum is free on Mondays.

Chicago History Museum in a larger map

Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.

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