The Fair's Legacy

The Founding of The Field Museum

Chicago won the bid to host the World’s Fair in 1890. That same year, Frederic Putnam, future director of the Fair’s anthropology department, proposed creating a museum following the Fair’s closure: collecting for the event provided a perfect opportunity.

As the exhibitors left Chicago, more than 50,000 objects were donated and purchased for the Museum. Stock certificates used to fund the Fair were also transferred. Fair directors and organizers became the Museum’s first board members and curators.

The Field Columbian Museum opened to the public on June 2, 1894. Originally conceived as a commemoration of the Fair, not as a natural history institution, it became a source of civic pride. Over time, certain departments were eliminated, such as Industrial Arts, forming the natural history museum you know today.

Looking at our collections from the Fair, we can tell a lot about that time: where the sciences were in 1893, and how our understanding of and approach to them has changed since.

These objects started one of the world’s most extensive natural history collections, which now hold more than 25 million artifacts and specimens—and provide unique research and study opportunities for scientists from around the world.