The vast Greek classical structure in Jackson Park is the only surviving building of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Designed by Charles B. Atwood, it was then called the Palace of Fine Arts. Architects of the day said that its copper-clad domes and graceful lines rivaled the Parthenon. Because it housed valuable artworks, it was the only fireproof building at the fair. After the exposition, it housed the early collections of the Field Museum of Natural History, but the Field Museum moved to Grant Park in 1921. The building deteriorated rapidly.Its savior came in 1926 in the form of industrialist and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Rosenwald spearheaded an $8 million campaign--using both private and public funds--to refurbish the building into a world-class industrial museum. It was completed in time for the opening of the 1933 "Century of Progress" World's Fair.
A metal capsule that dates from 1934 served as the gondola of a balloon that allowed scientists to penetrate the stratosphere 11.5 miles above the Earth. And a 65-foot-high version of Foucault's pendulum offers mysterious proof of the rotation of the Earth. Uncounted feet have worn a path through a giant model of a beating human heart large enough to serve a body 28 stories tall. People have stepped gingerly aboard a simulated flight deck of a Navy aircraft carrier and explored a Boeing 727 jet, its 90,000 pounds suspended from a balcony. Up-to-the-minute scientific exhibits provide insights into the workings of the human brain, genetic diseases and the virus that causes AIDS.
In the mid-1990s, the museum announced plans for a modern underground parking garage. The concrete parking lot that for decades has sprawled in front of the museum's north side was to be turned back into an inviting expanse of green, the way its original designers planned it.