Focus: Meteorites - History

For information on the center‘s current activities see our researchand collection pages.

Since its beginnings in 1893 the Field Museum has a long-standing history in meteoritics. In 1933 the Meteoritical Society, the professional society for meteorite researchers, was founded at the Field Museum.

The Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies was established in 2009 at the Field Museum through a $7.3 Million grant from theTawani Foundation.

The Tawani Foundation, founded by Chicago investor and philanthropist COL (IL) James N. Pritzker IL ARNG (Ret.), who developed a deep interest in meteorites over the last 12 years and has joined expeditions to Antarctica. The endowment established the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies at the museum, named in honor of James Pritzker's father, and includes academic salary for a full-time curator, a collections manager, and an adjunct curator.

It began with the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The meteorite collection at the Field Museum began in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition with one hundred seventy meteorites that formed a part of the natural history exhibit put up by Ward's Natural Science Establishment. The entire display was bought by Marshall Field, founder and one of the members of the board of trustees of the Field Museum.

The Ward-Coonley Collection

A significant addition was made to the meteorite collection when the Ward-Coonley collection was purchased in 1912 for $80,000. Prof. Henry Ward accumulated this collection world-wide by travel and purchase. He cut up and polished some of his original meteorites and used them to trade for rare and extremely valuable pieces.

The Ward-Coonley collection contains some rare pieces from the James Gregory collection in London (like the 141 kg Youndegin, the 61.7 kg Wabar and 1/3 of the original mass of Pipe Creek) and choice pieces from Count Julian Siemaschko collection of St. Petersburg (noteworthy of mention are Indarch, Mighei, Pavlodar and Ochansk). In addition Ward also collected and purchased some large specimens from all over North and South America by sending flyers to geologists and dealers announcing that he desired to purchase meteorites. It was through this method that he bought St. Genevieve County (244.6 kg) and Bath Furnace (80.8 kg.).

The Ward-Coonley collection had been promised for deposit at the American Museum of Natural History with right of first refusal. The American Museum of Natural History failed to follow options in the agreement. When Ward died, his widow Mrs. Lydia Avery Coonley acted immediately to dispose of Prof. Ward’s collection. Her first contact was the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution failed to raise the necessary funds for its purchase and the American Museum of Natural History declined to sell it for Mrs. Coonley. The collection was then purchased by the Field Museum (see also Ebel et al. 2006). Subsequent growth of the collection came through other purchases and exchanges from institutions and meteorite dealers and also by gifts and field finds.

Today, the Field Museum has one of the world's largest meteorite collections. The meteorites from the Field Museum collection can be requested for research loans by qualified scientists.