Chicago History Museum: 5 Fascinating Exhibits

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The Chicago History Museum is a must-visit destination for history buffs and curious travelers.

Located in the heart of Lincoln Park, the museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Chicago and the surrounding area.

If you’re a lifelong resident who has never visited, or a first-time visitor to Chicago, here’s a comprehensive guide that tells you what the Chicago History Museum has to offer and the various activities you can do there.

About the Museum

historic chicago L car
Car of Historic Chicago L Train

The museum’s exhibits are organized chronologically, taking visitors on a journey through the city’s history. From the first settlers to the Great Fire of 1871 to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the museum covers all the major events that have shaped Chicago.

One of the highlights of the museum is the exhibit on the Chicago Blues, which explores the city’s rich musical heritage. Visitors can listen to recordings, or sit for a performance, of some of the city’s most famous blues musicians and learn about the role that music has played in shaping Chicago’s culture.

The Chicago History Museum is a fascinating and educational destination that is well worth a visit. The exhibits are engaging exhibits and give a unique perspective on the city’s past and present.

How to Get There

Public parking is available just one block north of the Museum, near the intersection of Clark and LaSalle streets, at 1730 N. Stockton Dr. The rate is discounted to $10 when our ticket is validated.

Take the CTA Red line to the Clark & Division Stop. Then walk north for about 15 minutes on Clark Street to the museum.

Take the CTA Brown line to the Segwick Stop. Then walk east for about 15 minutes on North Avenue to Clark Street and turn left.

Location and Hours

The museum is located at 1601 N Clark St in Chicago. They are only open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 A to 4:30 PM, and Sunday from Noon to 5:00 PM.

Admission

The cost of admission is $19 (adults) | $17 (seniors and students).

Check for tickets to the Chicago History Museum

You’ll save money by bundling the cost with other attractions with a GoCity Explorer Pass or All-inclusive Pass.

Go City: Chicago pass

Visitors from outside of Illinois are eligible for student prices aged 13 through 18, and children under 12 may enter for free.

Illinois residents can enter for free on certain days with proof of residency. Museum members, university students or employees, active duty, recipients of social services, and military personnel may be eligible for discounted or free admission.

The 5 Most Amazing Exhibits

vintage signs that were in chicago

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Chicago’s history is remarkably rich and expansive, and this museum does an exceptional job of encapsulating the highlights of its formative years in a compelling and engaging manner.

Upon entering, I am always delighted by the sight of vintage signs that once adorned the streets of Chicago. Recognizing the familiar names of businesses, products, and street signs instantly transports me back to a bygone era, evoking a sense of nostalgia.

The museum’s curators have meticulously preserved these relics because they are in excellent condition and are shielded from exposure. At the same time, it allows you to immerse yourself in the past and gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s evolution over time.

Each vintage sign serves as a portal, inviting exploration and igniting curiosity about the stories and experiences that unfolded beneath their illuminated presence.

chicago style hot dog
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Chicago has given birth to numerous iconic products that have become integral parts of our daily lives. From the kitchen to the playroom, the innovative minds of Chicagoans have left an indelible mark on our homes and our culture.

Famous Chicago foods deep-dish pizza and hot dogs are just the beginning. The city’s ingenuity has also brought us beloved household names like Radio Flyer wagons, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Wrigley’s chewing gum, Morton Salt, Cracker Jack, and Quaker Oats.

These brands, born out of the entrepreneurial spirit of Chicago, have transcended their local roots and become cherished fixtures in homes across the nation and beyond.

From the development of the skyscraper to the creation of the first Ferris wheel, visitors can explore the city’s contributions to science, technology, and design.

artwork of the great chicago fire
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The museum exhibit would not be complete without a comprehensive exploration of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It took the kick by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow to define the moments in the city’s history and showcase its resilience and determination.

As I move through the display, I sense the despair of trying to put out a fire that is out of control with no modern equipment. Display cases are filled with melted glassware, flatware, buttons fused together, and warped shop keys to remind us of the fire’s wrath.

At the same time, the exhibits are educational and doesn’t dwell on the loss. It incorporates teaching children how to use a fire alarm and celebrating the role of firemen.

display of al capone and other chicago gangsters
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The era of Al Capone, Prohibition, and rampant criminal activity became deeply ingrained in the fabric of Chicago’s history. It left an indelible mark of violence that persists in people’s perceptions of the city’s safety even today.

The museum does an excellent job of redirecting what could otherwise be a cast of bad clouds. But the presentation was informative, factual, and interesting.

There are other attractions that dive more deeply into the era of mobs and crime that are highly rated in Chicago.

Check rates for a Private Al Capone Gangster Tour in Chicago

jazz and blues club setting in museum
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Some of my fondest memories of nightlife in Chicago are the jazz and blues spots. Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s Legends, The Cotton Club all flood my memory of hearing great music.

Chicago’s annual Blues Fest or Jazz Fest were always on my summer bucket list. The events are free and give an opportunity to enjoy in the city’s rich musical heritage and celebrate its influential contributions to these iconic genres.

This exhibit at the Chicago History Museum portrays the essence of the city’s proud musical legacies.

I felt as though I had been transported into an era where countless musicians, clubs, and cultural movements shaped Chicago’s reputation for jazz and blues.

There is so much more to see and I have barely scratched the surface. Are you a history buff and want to learn more? Get your tickets, hop on the L, and soak up Chicago’s history at this museum!

Things to do or See Near the Chicago Museum

diaorama of historic chicago street
Diorama of historic street

The neighborho0d of Lincoln Park is known for its zoo and nightlife. To the north, you’ll find some family-friendly activities that you can enjoy such as the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park Zoo, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Art lovers can visit the Lighthouse Art Space at 108 West Germania Place for immersive art experiences when events take place.

If you’re up for exploring the obscure side of Chicago, visit these!

In the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, the city took decisive action to rebuild with more fire-resistant materials. The once prevalent wooden streets were replaced with concrete or brick pavements to prevent such a catastrophic event from happening again.

However, a remarkable piece of history has been preserved – the only remaining wooden alley dating back to the era before the fire. This extraordinary relic is located between N. Astor Street and N. State Street, and spans between E. Burton Place and E. North Boulevard. Visiting this alley offers a rare glimpse into the city’s past, serving as a poignant reminder of the devastating fire that reshaped Chicago’s infrastructure and urban landscape.

Oddly enough, the museum area was once a burial ground. The remains of the deceased were relocated to another cemetery except this one because it was too much of an effort. The tomb weighs 50 tons, and the walls are 16 inches thick. It is the burial place of a real estate millionaire, Ira Couch. The tomb is located is on the north side of the museum’s property.

Directly adjacent to the museum is the Richard M. and Shirley H. Jaffee History Trail. This quarter mile-long path highlights the impact of railroads on urban development, the significance of the city’s waterways for trade and industry, and the innovative engineering that shaped the city’s evolution.

The trail provides a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the city’s fascinating past while enjoying the outdoors.

Where to Eat Nearby

Tacos Featuredv2

There are plenty of great restaurants in the area, but you’ll need to walk a block or two within the neighborhood. Here are my recommendations for great food.

Old Town Pour House

📍1400 N Wells St | Opens at Noon on Sat and Sun, 11:00 AM on Fri, and 4:00 PM Tue – Thu

Suzie WhitacreSuzie Whitacre
00:50 06 Jun 24
DaniDani
19:34 28 May 24
Overall this isn't a bad place to go for a few drinks and some bar food. The big negative was the waitress we had seem annoyed we were there, as did the hosts when we first walked in. We chose this place because of the group tables and we had 8 people (each table has 8 chairs at it). Additionally this place only allowed you to use one card, which is incredibly inconvenient for large groups who traveled from all over to be there. We don't know eachother like that, and rwsturaunts who do this are not considerate of that fact. The food was good and the drinks were cold.
Juan QuinteroJuan Quintero
02:33 23 May 24
Food was good. They have plenty of beer options. The service was exceptional. We had a really cool server. Thank you Luis for the great service!
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Broken English Taco Pub

📍1400 N Wells St | Opens at Noon on Sat. and Sun, and 4:00 PM Mon- Thu

Rudy RomanRudy Roman
22:56 05 Jun 24
If you say you have a Happy Hour & the only thing you can offer is a $6 margarita, that's pathetic. Just don't say you have one. Ordered 2 steak tacos for NINE dollars & they were SO tiny & VERY salty. No regular sides like rice & beans. Definitely not worth it.
abby groteabby grote
20:35 04 Jun 24
this place is so mid it’s a generous 3.8 idk how they have such a high rating
The Porcelain UnicornThe Porcelain Unicorn
23:10 02 Jun 24
We went here with our girlfriends on Saturday and had so much fun!! The drink were amazing and the Service was even better. Sophie was our server and had us giggling the whole time. She was amazing, we will definitely be coming back!
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If you’ll looking for a cafe, I recommend La Fournette. The bakery is also located on Wells Street and locals form a line out the door on weekends for the almond croissants.

La Fournette

📍1547 N Wells St | Opens daily from 7 AM to 2 PM

Mariia BazhinaMariia Bazhina
20:06 02 Jun 24
Eric LoBueEric LoBue
13:56 01 Jun 24
Andrew MartinAndrew Martin
20:52 30 May 24
Stopped in for a coffee and some pastries, this quaint little spot did not disappoint! Both the coffee and all of the pastries we ordered were fresh and delicious!
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Final Thoughts about the Chicago History Museum

The Museum offers a complimentary coat check service, staffed by friendly and helpful attendants. During my visit, they thoughtfully suggested starting the exploration on the second floor and working my way down. It took me 1.5 to 2 hours to see everything.

This turned out to be an excellent recommendation, as the second floor houses most of the historical exhibits, allowing for an immersive and chronological experience.

For those seeking refreshments, the on-site restaurant provides a convenient dining option. The menu offers a diverse selection, catering to various tastes with choices ranging from fresh salads to classic burgers.

I opted for the French fries, which were cooked to perfection, achieving a delightful crispy golden-brown exterior. The overall quality of the food surpassed my expectations, making it a pleasant addition to the museum experience.

Overall, it was a truly enriching experience, and the exhibits vividly portray the remarkable story of a city that rose from the ashes and continues to thrive.

Safe travel.


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