Chicago is the most populous city in Illinois, having been around since the 18th century when the area was seized by colonizers. The city’s history is long and colorful. It has witnessed events such as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the unprecedented economic boom in the late 19th century, and mass immigration from war-torn Europe. Also, it was home to the Chicago Black Renaissance and was even taken over by gangsters like Al Capone. With such an interesting history and such a varied cultural background, the city of Chicago offers amazing museums to give tourists the opportunity to see its past. We are offering you a guide to the top 10 best Chicago history museums!
The Field Museum of Natural History
If you are interested in natural history, this is the place for you! The Chicago Field Museum is one of the largest museums of its kind. Most people are familiar with the t-rex skeleton which greets you at the entrance (her name is Sue!). However, there is much more to it than the breathtaking fossil.
You can view the “Evolving Planet” exhibition, which includes various details about how living beings on this planet went through multiple changes until they reached their current state. You can see dinosaur fossils or take a look at the incredible bug collection. Children can learn while playing in the Crown Family PlayLab, while adults take a look at the photo exhibition by the current Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Tickets range from $27 for children to $40 for adults, for an unforgettable adventure through the world’s natural history!
DuSable Museum of African American History
The DuSable Museum of African American History was established in 1961. It was a time when the history and values of African Americans were overlooked not only by the everyman but by academics as well. Founders Charles and Margaret Burroughs decided to open the museum to raise awareness of the incredible artistic achievements of Black Americans; history that was not studied or preserved by anyone at the time.
Currently, the museum houses exhibitions from the 18th century to current times. You can learn about Black citizen-soldiers who fought for democracy in Illinois, the race riots of 1919, and view art by African Americans. The goal of this establishment is to celebrate the achievements, contributions, and experiences of Black Americans in a setting in which White art has been celebrated for centuries. The admission prices for the DuSable museum are $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students. You can also easily find it in Washington Park at the corner of 57th and Cottage Grove. Our address is 740 East 56th Place.
Chicago History Museum
The Chicago History Museum offers an eclectic look at the history of the city, from the farthest in the past to recent events. If you are interested in what America is like, this is the museum to check out. The place itself is tied to amazing events from the past.
The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed multiple collections belonging to the Chicago Historical Society. Thus, many important documents, such as Abraham Lincoln’s final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, have been lost. This museum then rose from the ashes when the Historical Society started replenishing their collection. You can view permanent exhibitions about Abraham Lincoln, many artifacts and objects which illustrate Chicago’s history, such as the first locomotives, the history of jazz and blues music, and a lot more.
The Charnley-Persky House Museum
The Charnley-Persky House is a very important building in Chicago: its architects are Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, two majorly important figures not only in Chicago history but American history.
Frank Lloyd Wright and his mentor, Louis Sullivan, were instrumental in defining American architecture. They worked on residential projects such as the Charnley House, and on public commissions such as the iconic Auditorium Building. Charnley House was built between 1891 and 1892, and currently, it functions as a museum.
If you plan to visit the house, you’re in luck! It is located in the historic district of the city, in the Gold Coast neighborhood, so you will be immersed in Chicago history on your way to the museum. They offer 45-minute tours for free year-round, where you will be able to discover the charm of the late 1800s, seeing the authentic design and style of the building. Or, if you’d like a guided tour for more learning opportunities, the museum provides those as well!
National Hellenic Museum
The National Hellenic Museum stands tall as a testament to Greek immigrants to Chicago, and the United States. Before it was finally opened in its current location in 1983, the museum had to move around often in order to survive. It was once located above a restaurant in Greek Town.
Currently, visitors can see a recent history of Greek-Americans: you can look at plastic art, sculptures, items brought here by Greek families in the early 1900s and even a vast coin collection. The museum also showcases some ancient Greek artifacts, allowing visitors to see the Greeks’ distant and recent past. They welcome you individually or in group tours of many lengths and styles. So you are certainly going to learn a lot and enjoy your visit at the National Hellenic Museum.
You can join a mini-tour for $6, and follow a 20-minute tour in the exhibition of your choice. However, if you have time and more interest, you may want the all-access tour. The all-access tour consists of three 20-minute mini-tours about the main exhibitions, and you can view the rest of them on your own time. Additionally, this tour gives you access to the building’s rooftop with a great view over Greek Town, for only $7!
Oriental Institute Museum
If you enjoy the mysteries and charm of the Near East, the Oriental Institute Museum is a must on your list! They have a world-renowned collection of art and items from ancient Egypt, Nubia, Mesopotamia and hold many interesting events all year.
Learning about the history of mankind is easy at the Oriental Institute Museum. Here, there are programs for adults, youths and children. While touring the museum, you can check out objects that date back to 10000 B.C. Additionally, the museum offers audio tours in Spanish and Chinese as well. The building is wheelchair accessible and it’s also a great resource for researchers who are always welcome. The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays between 10 am and 5 pm. All-access tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Jane Addams Hull House Museum
Jane Addams is the first American woman to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in 1860, she was instrumental in changing policy regarding immigration. Hull House was a social settlement in the 1890s, and it is a location that reshaped American democracy. It is a pillar of Chicago history because this is the site from which Jane Addams launched her campaigns to fight for the rights of immigrants.
If you are interested in the past and even current immigration policies, the Jane Addams Hull House Museum is a must-see! Here, you can see an amalgam of topics about feminism, the fight for free speech, voting rights and achieving true freedom and peace. The museum hosts permanent exhibitions about Jane Addams, as well as interactive ones about present issues.
You can visit the museum from Tuesday to Friday and on Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. You may opt for a self-guided visit, which generally takes an hour. However, you may also take a group tour that accommodates up to 25 people. It also gives you access to a guide who will explain everything there is to know about Jane Addams and her incredible movement!
Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace Museum
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most well-known American authors, his name recognizable around the world. He was also a Chicago native, born in 1899, in the second-floor bedroom of a house nestled in Oak Park. The house is built in 1890 in the Queen Anne style by Hemingway’s grandparents.
If you are interested in the quintessential American author’s life, this is the right place to start. Hemingway spent his first 6 years in the gorgeous Victorian house; restored to its early glory in the 1990s. The museum offers tours to experience life the way it was at the turn of the century, showcasing many of the items and even the natural landscape which inspired Hemingway’s later work. You can also partake in an hourly guided tour to see how the child prodigy spent his first years!
Leather Archives & Museum
“Regular” history doesn’t interest you as much? There are many interesting niche museums in Chicago. One of which is the Leather Archives, a place whose motto is “making leather, kink, BDSM, and fetish accessible through research, preservation, education and community engagement.”
The museum is certainly different. It focuses on a topic that has been brought into the limelight by books such as E. L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy. But, due to carelessness and taboo, much of the public’s image of BDSM is warped and wrong. The museum aims to showcase the history and rich cultural value of kinks and sexuality; a topic still regarded as off-limits. If you are curious, you can take a look at there different collections. These collections include women’s leather history, the history of fakirs and many other tantalizing topics, in a safe, educational setting.
Museum of Broadcast Communication
Established in 1987, the Museum of Broadcast Communication aims to collect, preserve and present both the historic and contemporary objects that made it possible for the world to listen to the radio and watch television. As the online world slowly takes over everything, including radio and TV broadcasting, these items are becoming rarer and rarer. When was the last time you’ve seen a boombox or a Walkman?
The museum is home to archives, objects, and media all about how radio and television came to be. The curators exhibit obscure radios, cameras and they even showcase a newsroom from back in the day. You can also view costumes, toys, and various other products related to television. You may also take a look at the National Radio Hal of Fame; an exhibition that honors the most influential American radio hosts.