The Museum of Science and Industry sits near the lakefront on Chicago’s South Side, prominently situated within the beautiful Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Jackson Park. It is the only one of the many large neoclassical structures built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition that still stands today. The rest of the buildings in what was known as the “White City” were temporary structures, clad in bright white plaster, but the Palace of Fine Arts was a sturdier building, necessarily fireproofed due to its housing of priceless artworks from around the world. This was fortunate, as a large fire claimed the rest of the White City in 1894, just one year after it was completed.
The “White City” of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Palace of Fine Arts visible in right midground
Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum (flickr)
In the early part of the twentieth century, the building served as the temporary home of the Field Museum of Natural History until that museum moved to its permanent location further north along the lakeshore in Grant Park in 1920. It was difficult to find a use for the unoccupied building because of its massive square footage and the necessity of major renovations. The South Park Commission (a governing body over South Side parks) even at one point voted for its demolition. As a Chicago Tribune op-ed put it, “Though a vast structure it is exquisitely graceful. In a state of decay for years, it has been preserved only because no man in authority dared to order it destroyed.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 19. 1926).
Poster advertising the new Museum of Science and Industry
Credit: Work Projects Administration, 1940 (Library of Congress)
As Chicago began preparing to host its second World’s Fair in 1933, the “Century of Progress,” Julius Rosenwald became interested in establishing a permanent “Industrial Museum” in Chicago to showcase America’s history of technological innovation as well as teach the country’s youth about how modern technology works. The former Palace of Fine Arts seemed an obvious location as it had space enough for large-scale exhibits, it was owned by the South Park Commission and its graceful neoclassical architecture conveyed the promise of technology to make possible, as the Tribune put it, “our greater material prosperity and our greater leisure” and transform overcrowded and polluted cities into inspiring and recuperative public spaces. “Housing an industrial museum in the midst of classic refinement impresses us as a recognition of the fact that the machine has brought leisure and with leisure a greater opportunity for the cultivation of beauty than the world has ever known” (Tribune, Aug 19, 1926).
Slide of Daniel Burnham’s “Plan of Chicago,” early example of the “City Beautiful” movement
Photo credit: Penn State Libraries Pictures Collection (flickr)
The White City itself (and the “City Beautiful” movement it helped to spawn) was originally inspired by the beauty and gracefulness of Europe’s public buildings and public infrastructure. Likewise, Rosenwald was inspired by the great industrial museums in Paris, London, Vienna and especially Munich to create the Museum of Science and Industry. Rosenwald first visited Munich’s Deutsches Museum with his son in 1911. Later, in 1926, as he became more and more committed to creating a similar industrial museum in Chicago, Rosenwald went back to Europe with his family. Along the way, he reported to overseas Tribune correspondents about his vision for Chicago’s own museum: “I would like every young growing mind in Chicago to be able to see working models, visualizing developments in machines and processes which have been built by the greatest industrial nation in the world” (Tribune, Apr 17, 1926).
In the 1920s, two other cities in America had industrial museums in the works (Washington D.C. and New York) but with Rosenwald’s dedicated support, Chicago’s was the first to be completed. The process, however, did not go smoothly, and Rosenwald did not see the museum open before he died. Renovations of the building were complex; most of the exterior was to be replaced with limestone and the interior was a totally new design. Money was also an issue. Rosenwald intended the industrial museum to be funded similarly to his other philanthropic projects, that is, his initial large donation of $3 million would “challenge” others to support the cause. However, the Depression severely limited the ability of others in the community to donate to the fledgling museum. Rosenwald provided most of the monetary support, going as far as to personally guarantee the dividends of the flagging Sears stock he had previously donated to the museum.
When the museum was first incorporated as a non-profit organization, it was called the Rosenwald Industrial Museum. Rosenwald strongly disagreed with it bearing his name, and successfully had it changed to the name we know it as today. Although he had provided virtually all of the cash investment necessary to start the museum, he felt that it should be an ongoing public institution and thus not be associated with his family in perpetuity. Rosenwald’s biographer and grandson Peter Ascoli quotes him on this point: “From the very inception of this public project in 1926, I insisted that it should not be named after me… The Museum belongs to the people of Chicago and the nation. Whatever I contributed toward founding the Museum has been in the firm belief that it will play a useful part in our educational, industrial and scientific life. I hope the Museum will enlist the interest and aid of the entire country” (qtd. in Ascoli, 329).
Contemporary photo of the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: Oscar Shen, 2012 (flickr)
Rosenwald’s gifts went largely to the substantial renovations of the building; he hoped that its exhibits and upkeep would come from the public. He outlined his vision of corporate donations to a Tribune reporter in 1926: “America has thousands of these historical old models stored away in research laboratories of many of our great industries. These and specially built working models showing the insides of the workings and why the wheels go around should be assembled together and exhibited in a great museum in Chicago” (Tribune, Apr 17, 1926).
Portrait of Rosenwald in Museum’s boardroom
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, 2011
The Museum of Science and Industry opened in stages. Several exhibits were opened to public during the 1933 World’s Fair, but the formal opening was not until March 7, 1938 (Ascoli, 379). Over its more than seventy years of existence, the museum has stayed remarkably true to its original vision. Permanent exhibits such as the coal mine, the historical airplanes and the U-Boat were all part of Rosenwald’s original concept for the museum. Others, such as the agricultural and train exhibits, were conceived by the original planning committee of the museum before it opened. Although many of the museum’s thousands of visitors likely have no knowledge of Julius Rosenwald, his presence is still felt in the museum. Rosenwald’s portrait hangs in the museum’s boardroom, there is an event and exhibit space called Rosenwald Court, and the museum has organized a “Rosenwald Society” to receive charitable gifts.
Rosenwald Court in the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, 2011
We’ve had two shoots at the Museum of Science and Industry so far for The Rosenwald Schools. Back in 2011, we shot b-roll of the building exterior and Jackson Park. In early December of 2012, we interviewed Kathleen McCarthy, director of exhibits and collections and also filmed the coal mine exhibit, which is still a favorite at the museum.
By Michael Rose
Did Julius Rosenwald make it his last philanthropic act to fund the investigation of notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone? Although he never spoke about it publicly before his death in 1932, Rosenwald was allegedly a member of the “Secret Six,” an organization of wealthy businessmen who, when faced with the inability of the police and courts to stop organized crime in Chicago, took matters into their own hands and funded a private investigation of the Chicago “Outfit.”
The impetus for the formation of the Secret Six came in 1930 when Philip Meagher, construction superintendent for the new Chicago Lying-In Hospital was gunned down in broad daylight by two gangsters at the construction site. The new hospital was being built on the University of Chicago campus thanks to a large donation by Julius Rosenwald, who was also a benefactor of the hospital at its previous location. While receiving treatment for his wounds, Meagher told the police the shooting was due to “labor trouble,” as the construction company Meagher worked for had chosen to use non-union workers.
A postcard of the completed Lying-In Hospital, date unknown
Shortly after this event, Colonel Robert Isham Randolph, president of the Chicago Association of Commerce, told the press that the CAC was taking an interest in the case because violence was increasingly moving from the criminal underworld of alcohol bootlegging into the world of legitimate business. Randolph formed a subcommittee of the CAC to combat organized crime and when he wouldn’t reveal its members to the press, one newspaperman dubbed them the “Secret Six.” In April of 1930 (two months after the shooting of Philip Meagher) Randolph was quoted by the Chicago Daily Tribune, describing the purpose of the Secret Six:
“We want it understood that we have not taken over the city from its constituted authorities. We are not vigilantes and we are not adopting extra-legal methods. The law enforcing agencies were scattered and there was an apparent lack of coordination between them. We feel that we have brought about a coordination of police, prosecutors, and Criminal court judges. We have done more—we have set up a real secret service for the prosecutors—something they would have been unable to do themselves.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr 15, 1930)
Specifically, it seems that the Secret Six funded private investigators, began a protection and relocation program for state’s witnesses and supported an income tax investigation (tax evasion was what Capone was ultimately convicted for). This six man anti-crime organization was necessarily secret: in this time of bribed law enforcement and bold intimidation of civil servants by gangsters, it was important that anyone wishing to stand up against organized crime remain anonymous. It should come as no surprise, then, that Rosenwald never claimed membership in the Secret Six, especially because he passed away shortly after Capone’s conviction. Randolph, in his 1932 eulogy for Rosenwald addressed to the Chicago Association of Commerce, expressed gratitude for Rosenwald’s financial support of the Secret Six, calling him “the most human of men” and praising his “wise” philanthropy.
Mugshot of Capone taken June 17th, 1931 by the United States Department of Justice
The Secret Six’s role in bringing down Al Capone and other racketeers has been overshadowed by the more heavily dramatized story of Eliot Ness and the “Untouchables,” but their financial support of crime fighting efforts was crucial to Capone’s conviction. At the time, the Secret Six were well known nationally. Their work was discussed in many newspaper articles and the story was the subject of a pre-Code gangster film in 1931 named The Secret Six, about the rise and fall of a bootlegger named Slaughterhouse Scorpio (a character loosely adapted from Capone). Although it’s less well known than other pre-Code classics like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (though it was released within a few months of them) it’s no less exciting and fast-paced. It also serves as a revealing document of the popular perception of Prohibition-era gangsters (and those who worked to bring them to justice) made during a time when alcohol bootlegging and the attendant violence was still very much a reality in cities like Chicago.
In a humorous touch, the Secret Six don black masks before meeting members of the press in the 1931 film, The Secret Six
By Michael Rose
Julius Rosenwald’s estate sat in one of the scenic and highly prized ravines of Lake Michigan’s northern shoreline, in the town Highland Park. Although the Rosenwald home burned down some years ago, the parks department of Highland Park turned the grounds of the estate into Rosewood Park and Beach. This scenic public park, which abuts Lake Michigan, gains from its original design by the famous Danish-American landscape architect Jens Jensen. Jensen designed this and many other grounds in the Chicago area in his distinctive “prairie style,” utilizing open spaces and native plants.
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, May 2012
Recently, the park and beach have been the subject of an ongoing debate about whether to add infrastructure or to leave the space as is. Neighbors are divided on the issue. Last week, in spite of strong resistance from some residents, the park commissioners of the town of Highland Park unanimously approved a plan that would add restrooms, a concession stand, a lifeguard shelter and a lakeside “interpretive center.” Opponents of the redevelopment cited concerns that the interpretive center’s location on the beach would make it susceptible to damage from storms and that the new infrastructure would ruin the “natural and tranquil environment” of Rosewood Beach (“Leave Rosewood Beach alone,” the Chicago Sun-Times). The Chicago Tribune reports: “People on both sides of the debate invoked the names of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who owned an estate on the beach, and celebrated landscape architect Jens Jensen, who designed the estate’s grounds, trying to ascertain what each historical figure would think of the project.” Enlisting Jenson and Rosenwald into either side of the debate would be difficult to do, as both men clearly valued the tranquility and natural landscaping of Ravinia while also appreciating the importance of public space.
Regarding this latter point, Julius Rosenwald’s wife Augusta was perhaps best known for her contributions to the parks of Illinois. Along the Union Pacific North rail line in downtown Highland Park is a small park designed by Jens Jensen, built in commemoration of the landscape architect who lived and worked nearby on Dean Avenue. But the park is also a memorial to another famous resident of the Ravinia section of Highland Park: Augusta Rosenwald. In addition to commissioning his work at the Rosenwald estate, the Rosenwalds were personal friends of Jensen and Augusta was a member of his park advocacy organization, the “Friends of Our Native Landscape.” The Friends lobbied for the creation of new state and national parks in Illinois in areas with unique natural features such as the Indiana Dunes and the Shawnee National Forest, as well as the augmentation of existing parks such as Starved Rock. The centerpiece of Jens Jensen Park is a council ring (a trademark of Jensen’s work) that surrounds a boulder with a small plaque memorializing Augusta Rosenwald. The boulder, installed in 1930, a year after Augusta’s death, is a fitting tribute to the friendship and shared advocacy of Jensen and “Gussie” for the preservation of historical and scenic parts of the landscape around Chicago.
Boulder honoring Augusta Rosenwald in Jens Jensen Park (click the image to view a larger version)
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, May 2012
In late May of this year, Aviva and Peter Ascoli (grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald) visited the Ravinia community in Chicago’s suburbs where Rosenwald had a summer home. Aviva and Peter attended the dedication by the town historical society of a plaque commemorating Rosenwald’s achievements and philanthropy. The plaque was embedded into the sidewalk of Central Avenue in Highland Park.
Sidewalk plaque honoring Julius Rosenwald in Highland Park
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, May 2012
By Michael Rose