Published: October 27, 2015

Breaking Ground: A lead up to The Field Museum

Jenna Lieblich, Membership Manager, Programs, Membership
Opening Day of The Field Museum, May 5 1921. Crowds approaching the Museum with a lone man standing to the side of the crowd. People crossing a wooden bridge, with the entire exterior view of the north facade of the Museum in the background.

Though initially disinterested in the notion of a museum, Edward Ayer successful convinced one of the most important citizens of Chicago to donate one million dollars towards a natural history museum. With Marshall Field’s gift, the dream of a museum was now a reality. After Field’s gift, many other leading contributors promptly lined up to give towards the cause including George M. Pullman and Harlow N. Higinbotham, each donating $100,000. By the end of 1893, the Museum had nearly one and a half million dollars. 

With these contributions a number of the original collections from the Fair were purchased, including the War natural history collection and the Tiffany collection of gems. A spirit of great generosity was aroused in the City of Chicago as donations of exhibits and collections were received in large numbers. Ayer, himself donated his vast anthropological collections of Native American and Egyptian artifacts to the Museum. The obstacle now was where the collections should be housed. The temporary Columbian World Fair structure, The Palace of Fine Arts renamed The Field Columbian Museum, was not meant to last. The city needed to construct a new building to protect the collections. 

By 1909, The Field Museum was in dire need of a new permanent home. The Palace of Fine Arts was rapidly deteriorating. Daniel H. Burnham included the new plans for the Museum in The 1909 Burnham Plan for Chicago. In 1911, after a controversial ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, Jackson Park, just South of Roosevelt, was marked as the new location for The Field Museum. Construction began in July 26, 1915. It took six years and more than 7 million dollars to complete the building. On May 2, 1921, the Field Museum was reopened to the public to vast hordes of visitors. 

It is evident that the beginning of The Field Museum dates all the way back to the 1880s. It took a decade to bring the Columbian World's Fair to Chicago,  three more years to gather the support and funds to establish a museum, and another 28 years to build The Field Museum that stands here today. Through the great passion, dedication, and support of a city, The Field Museum stands,  over one hundred years later, an institution dedicated to the protection, pursuit, and dissemination of knowledge. YOUR gift today will ensure it will stand for another hundred years. Give today! 

One hundred and twenty-two years ago, an act of philanthropy established The Field Museum. Today, support from members like you sustains that act. From fossils to fungi, mummies to meteorites, we have them all. Invest in YOUR museum. Mark your calendars for Wednesday, October 28, 2015 and make a gift on our first annual Giving Day! #FieldGivingDay

© The Field Museum, CSGN44672, Photographer Charles Carpenter