The Field Museum – Chicago, Illinois

By Heather Kallevig

Field Museum - Chicago

About the Museum

In 1893, Chicago, Illinois was the home of the World’s Columbian Exposition, an event that attracted visitors from across the globe to visit the awe-inspiring temporary exhibits on display. Following the event’s success, Chicagoan’s considered the best approach for the remaining space and exhibits. Professor F.W. Putnam suggested they be consolidated into a permanent establishment, a museum. The idea took hold and funds were generated to purchase some of the best exhibits from the fair, creating the first artifacts of the museum.

Founded in 1893, as the Columbia Museum of Chicago, the Field Museum has spent more than 120 years teaching its visitors about history, science, our planet, and beyond. World renowned for its creative exhibits, films, activities, and displays (some purchased, others donated,) the Field Museum is high on the list of most Chicago visitors. The Field Museum offers new and exciting traveling exhibits, when I visited they were Vikings and Titans of the Ice Age. They also offer 3-D films. I chose a film about the Galapagos.

The Field Museum’s mission is to inspire creativity. Before you arrive, there are several options when planning your museum experience. You may choose between three passes:

  1. All-Access Pass – access to all exhibitions and a 3-D movie
  2. Discovery Pass – access to permanent exhibitions and a 3-D movie
  3. Basic Admission – access to permanent exhibitions


Field Museum - Main HallIf you are able to visit the museum frequently throughout the year, you may go with one of the cheaper options. If you do not, however, I would definitely recommend springing for the All-Access pass.   Check the films and the visiting exhibits first to make sure they are interesting to you. I will say, however, these tickets were worth every penny. The movie about the Galapagos was my favorite part of the entire day!

When visiting the Field Museum there are three levels for patrons to visit. What you don’t see is the behind the scenes work taking place. The exhibitions actually use only a small portion of the entire museum’s space. The rest of the building is dedicated to the research that makes the Field Museum a valuable contribution to society. The museum website describes their collections – the exhibits, their research – behind the scenes, and their action – their impact.

“Our action harnesses our science to create lasting results in conservation, quality of life, and cultural understanding. Together, we increase the world’s ability to understand the past, explore the present, and shape a future rich with biological and cultural diversity.”

When visiting the museum there are four main areas to be aware of when planning the best possible experience. The museum specializes in exhibitions focusing on history, science, special events, and conservation. Consider diversifying your trip by visiting a few exhibits in each area.


Field Museum - Ancient EgyptNot surprisingly, the Field Museum is a great place to learn about history. The museum has permanent displays and visiting exhibitions. The museum is so large, you often have to plan a roadmap of your visit so you don’t miss anything important. Be sure to check what’s being showcased before you arrive. The museum’s permanent exhibits include Sue the T. Rex, a must-see for dinosaur lovers. Sue is the world’s largest, best-preserved fossil of a T. Rex. Her skull is so large and heavy, it is displayed separately on the 3rd floor! Other permanent exhibits include Inside Ancient Egypt where you can walk through pyramids, view Egyptian gold, and see real mummies. Another great ancient culture exhibit is The Ancient Americas. Finally, you can travel different world cultures in Traveling the Pacific, the Pawnee Earth Lodge, and Africa.


Field Museum - DNA CenterThere are also many exciting science exhibits for children and adults alike. In these exhibits you have the opportunity to interact with and ask questions of the scientists who work in the museum, preparing exhibits and conducting research. Be sure to explore McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab. Here you can see how scientists prepare fossils for exhibit and study. The DNA Discovery Center you will learn all about DNA. If you’re into geology, don’t miss the Hall of Jades and the Grainger Hall of Gems. Naturalists and biologists can also be satiated. Evolving Planet leads explorers through 4 billion years of life on planet Earth. The Gidwitz Hall of Birds is a great place to learn about our aviary friends. Many of these specimens can no longer be seen in the wild – be sure to talk to a docent in this section – they have great information to share.   One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is a long hall of dioramas of animals in what appears to be their natural habitat. Most of these animals have been with the museum for decades. Some of which could no longer be collected, because many are now endangered.


Field Museum - Visiting EventsThe Field Museum is dynamic, ever-changing its exhibits and offering new and exciting events. This makes visiting the museum fun for tourists and locals. Whether you’re a school on a fieldtrip, or wishing to take a virtual vacation – there are many options to discover. Keep track of the museum’s ongoing events calendar for upcoming programs, activities, and lectures. There are programs available for teachers, students, families, teens, etc. There are also calendar events open to the public, for example this week’s events are Meet a Scientist and Designing Objects with Meaning: Cultural Symbolism in Ancient Civilizations. See if there are any taking place you might enjoy!


Field Museum - ConservationWhen I visited the Field Museum, I was awe-struck by the vast array of exhibits; there was a great deal to explore and discover, more than we could see in our three short hours. This may have been because I spent nearly an hour in one exhibit alone. This area centered on conservation. This is my favorite exhibit, and I highly recommend you check it out.   On the 3rd floor, is the museum’s Abbot Hall of Conservation, Restoring Earth. Here is where you learn the real influence of the Field Museum. Not only do they educate thousands of people each year in their building, they are making a global impact. Here you can read scientist’s field journals, and see the faces of people they work with in South America, Africa, and Asia. You can follow the progress of their conservation missions, and learn how to get involved. This exhibit is exhilarating, inspiring, and informative. It’s fascinating for scientists of all ages.

The Field Museum, inspiring creativity, is a must-see on your Chicago visit. Not only will you learn a great deal about the local area, you will walk away knowing more about your planet’s history, present, and future. Whether you are interested in fossils and geography, animals and birds, human culture, or conservation, you will find plenty to investigate at the museum. If you don’t have a full day to dedicate to the museum, don’t worry. At least take a few hours. We only had three hours, and it was time well spent. When you visit the Museum don’t forget to pack a lunch, bring a water bottle, and explore, discover, and learn. It’s likely you’ll be excited to return again and again.Field Museum - Sue the T-Rex

I’ll leave you with a final quote from the museum’s “Who We Are” page.

“The Field Museum inspires curiosity about life on Earth while exploring how the world came to be and how we can make it a better place.  We invite visitors, students, educators and scientists from around the world on a journey of scientific discovery.

  • Our exhibitions tell the story of life on Earth
  • Our collections solve scientific mysteries
  • Our research opens new vistas
  • Our science translates into action for a healthy planet

As educators, we inspire wonder and understanding.”

Field Museum Conservation