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History of the Chicago Academy of Sciences

  • The First Museum in the West

    The Chicago Academy of Sciences was founded in 1857 so nature aficionados and amateur scientists could study and share the specimens they collected. It was citizen science in action before the term was even invented! The scientific collection grew exponentially in both size and importance. So much so, that by 1870 the Academy had one of the most significant museum collections in the entire nation.

  • Rising From the Ashes

    The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 devastated both the city and the Academy. But much like the way Chicago rebuilt itself into one of America's most vital cities, the Academy did the same.

    In 1894, the Academy moved into the Laflin Memorial Building in Lincoln Park, where it resided for 100 years. There, natural history sprang to life through richly detailed dioramas filled with local flora and fauna. Public lectures and an accessible museum collection were staples of the flourishing Academy. In fact, by 1900, the Academy established itself as the leading educational resource for area teachers and students.

    After the fire, the collection was not only rebuilt, but became the definitive vehicle to study Chicago and the region's natural history.

    Read more about the fascinating people who rebuilt and became advocates for the Chicago Academy of Sciences. >>

  • Educating Chicago

    At the turn of the century, the Academy began to focus more on education. It developed teaching programs, not only for students, but also continuing education and certification for teachers that focused on understanding and interpreting the natural sciences. It also established a Children’s Library to promote science education and engage young people in the study of natural sciences. In the 1960s, the Academy began to implement and maintain the Junior Academy of Sciences, aimed at middle and high school children to provide additional learning opportunities. In 1983, the Education Department was formally established.

    Learn more about the Education Department here. >>

  • The Urban Gateway to Nature and Science

    As the 20th Century came to a close, it was easy for people in Chicago and the surrounding areas to lose their connection to nature. Consider that people spent more time walking on paved surfaces, eating processed foods and living sedentary indoor lives than any other time in human history. Not to mention the exploding urban growth of the city which ground away the natural landscape and local flora and fauna. People were starving for an authentic connection to the natural world. A place in our urban area where they could experience the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

    The opening of the Academy's Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in 1999 filled this void. The Nature Museum gave people the opportunity to create an authentic connection to nature and provided a new chance for the Academy to build on its legacy of scientific research and citizen science.

    Since the doors opened, the Museum has become one of the city's most attended institutions. It is truly a place where nature and science come alive each day.

    Today, the Nature Museum is known for its iconic Judy Istock Butterfly Haven and providing more hands-on science instruction than any museum in Chicago. The Academy continues to excel in all aspects of the museum experience, citizen science initiatives, compelling public programming, its outdoor Nature Trails exhibition and much more.

    Join us at the Museum today and make your connection to nature and science!


©The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum