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.

Breaking Ground: A lead up to The Field Museum

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. 

South facade of the Palace of Fine Arts building from the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Gondola boats in the lagoon and people on stairs.

The Museum's First Million: A lead up to The Field Museum

With only six weeks left before the end of the Columbian Exposition, the incorporators and trustees realized they needed to raise a lot of money to fund the new museum. On September 14, 1893, A.W. Manning from the Evening Post suggested Exposition stock holders donate their shares to the museum. This suggestion was successful and brought in roughly $1,500,000 from over 1,100 people; however, the project was still vastly underfunded and the founders needed a major donor.

Two men and a woman stand on a roof, overlooking the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.

A Gathering of Great Minds: A lead up to The Field Museum

In a Chicago newspaper communication, Frederick W. Putnam first proposed the idea of a Natural History Museum. Then the Curator of the Peabody Museum and Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, Putnam believed the Columbian World Fair offered a great opportunity to make "an important contribution to science" by presenting ethnographic exhibitions of past and present peoples of America at the Fair. Initially, Putnam's ideas received great opposition, but Putnam refused to be silenced.

A huge crowd stands outside the Indiana Building at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. The Palace of Fine Arts building is in the background.

The 1893 Columbian World's Fair: A lead up to The Field Museum

On May 1, 1893, The Chicago World’s Fair opened to the public. This magnificent exposition stood right along the lake front, spanning more than 630 acres. With a 264-foot-high Ferris Wheel and spectacular buildings, mostly of the neoclassical architectural style, the Fair demonstrated the global presence and prosperity that Chicago had to offer. Marked as a great public endeavor for the city, the idea of a World’s Fair actually began a decade earlier. The first public proposal to hold a fair in Chicago was submitted to a Chicago newspaper by a local dentist by the name of Dr. A W Harlan.

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