Chicago History Museum is the museum of the Chicago Historical Society, the oldest cultural institution in the city.
In 1856, CHS opened its doors to study and interpret Chicago’s history. The museum, located in the city’s Lincoln Park District, is a place of learning, discovery, history, and creativity.
Chicago History Museum encourages patrons to share their history. In addition, to add to the rich tapestry of Chicago’s story.
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The Chicago History Museum is home to millions of artifacts relevant to Chicago’s history. Therefore, permanent attractions include an exhibit that follows the city’s development from a trading outpost to a bustling metropolis, as well as an exhibition about freedom.
The museum's collection also contains a gallery featuring Abraham Lincoln artifacts, an interactive children’s gallery, and a film exploring major Chicago events.
Chicago History Museum also showcases two special exhibitions each year on Chicago-focused themes. In addition, the museum hosts programs, special events, tours and is available for private events.
Special Features at the Chicago History Museum
The museum collections mainly relate to local Chicago history. CHS contains an expansive research library of books, paintings, sculptures, and photos.
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These materials are available to the public. In addition, the museum’s costume collection includes over 50,000 pieces that date back to the 18th century, numerous couture pieces and items by renowned Chicago designers.
Fun Fact: Chicago’s nicknames include: the Windy City, City of the Big Shoulders, the Second City, the White City, and the City that Works.
In addition to Chicago’s story and featured collections like the Encyclopedia of Chicago, CHS showcases numerous programs, publications, and online resources related to American history.
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The museum also publishes Chicago History Magazine, where nearly 50,000 images have been digitized as part of the Explore Chicago Collection.
Meanwhile, the museum recognizes important Chicagoans and Chicago organizations with its Making History Awards every year.
Chicago History Museum Tours
Visitors are encouraged to experience the museum by taking a group tour. Groups of ten or more also receive discounts when reserving at least four weeks in advance.
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Plan ahead with customized itineraries, and a variety of lunch options. The museum’s experts have carefully crafted tours that tell Chicago’s legendary past. It’s always more fun to explore in a group!
City on Fire: Chicago 1871
This exhibit explores the impact this great tragedy had on the city of Chicago and its citizens. The city built on wood was fraught with blazes that caused severe destruction for three days.
Recovery efforts exposed deep social and economic inequalities when more than 100,000 people became homeless.
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CHS includes a fun gallery guide. Meanwhile, guests explore the City on Fire and showcase an incredible, historic 40-foot-wide oil painting that captures a 360-degree view of the Great Chicago Fire.
This family-friendly presentation features more than 100 artifacts from the museum’s collection, interactive and multimedia elements, and personal stories from survivors.
Patrons can also learn more about the exhibition at Chicago1871.org.
Fun Fact: Chicago’s downtown area is known as “The Loop,” which refers to the area encircled by the Chicago Transit Authority’s elevated (L) train tracks. This is the nation’s second-largest public transportation system, with an average of 1.6 million weekday rides.
This interactive exhibit invites guests to use all five senses as they ride a high-wheel bicycle, hear the roar of the Great Chicago Fire, catch a fly ball at Comiskey Park, and dive into a giant Chicago-style hot dog. This exhibit is limited to 30 people, so reservations are encouraged.
The Great Chicago Film Adventure
This incredible presentation in the museum’s newly renovated theater takes visitors on a journey through Chicago’s history.
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Guests experience President Obama’s victory speech, see the spectacle of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the sights of the city’s Maxwell Street back in the 1950s, and the legendary Sears Tower of the 1970s. This film’s running time is 27 minutes.
Illinois' own historic leader faced one of the nation’s most significant challenges and wars. This show highlights Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War and his brutal assassination.
Fun Fact: Chicago is the United State’s railroad capital, with more major railroads serving the city than any other place in America.
This virtual history lesson takes guests through Lincoln’s rise to prominence before becoming one of the nation’s most outstanding leaders.
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During his lifetime, Chicago became Lincoln’s second home and political headquarters. The photograph gallery provides a snapshot of the young Lincoln and his emerging dreams.
After most of the Chicago Historical Society’s original collection burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, most doubted the futility of the museum’s future.
Sadly Abraham Lincoln’s final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was destroyed. Afterwards, the society started gathering new materials, saved from the fire by J. Young Scammon, a prominent lawyer and member of the society.
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The Chicago Historical Society built a fireproof building that opened in 1896. Afterwards, it housed the society for the next 36 years.
Later, the building known as the Old Chicago Historical Society Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1920, prominent Chicago art collector Charles F. Gunter donated items. Afterwards, the society purchased the remainder of the history collection from his estate.
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These items included Lincoln’s deathbed, the table where General Robert E. Lee signed the 1865 surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant, in addition to Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd's, clothes on the night of his assassination.
CHS's mission was to change its focus from a research institute to a public museum. Therefore, in 2010 the museum was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for its commitment to Chicago’s LGBT history.
Chicago History Museum Hours
- Tuesday – Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
- Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
General Admission Cost (Children 18 & under are free)
- Adults $19.00
- Seniors $17.00
- College Students $17.00
CHS encourages visitors to purchase tickets in advance online. In addition, discounts can only be applied on tickets purchased in person.