Adler Planetarium

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Adler Planetarium
Adler external 1.jpg
Adler Planetarium is located in Chicago
Adler Planetarium
Location in central Chicago
Location 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Coordinates 41°51′59″N 87°36′24″W / 41.86639°N 87.60667°W / 41.86639; -87.60667Coordinates: 41°51′59″N 87°36′24″W / 41.86639°N 87.60667°W / 41.86639; -87.60667
Built 1930
Architect Ernest Grunsfeld, Jr.
Architectural style Art Deco
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 87000819
Significant dates
Added to NRHP February 27, 1987[1]
Designated NHL February 27, 1987[2]

The Adler Planetarium was founded in 1930 by Chicago business leader, Max Adler. It is located on the northeast tip of Northerly Island at the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. The Adler is America's first planetarium and part of Chicago's Museum Campus, which includes the John G. Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum. The Adler's mission is to inspire exploration and understanding of the Universe.

The Adler Planetarium opened to the public on May 12, 1930.[3] For its design, architect Ernest A. Grunsfeld, Jr. was awarded the gold medal of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1931.[4] It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.[2][5]

The Adler is home to three full size theaters, extensive space science exhibitions, and a significant collection of antique scientific instruments and print materials. In addition, the Adler boasts the Doane Observatory, one of the only research-active, public urban observatories. This lakeside observatory is the only place in Chicago where the public can see planets, stars, and galaxies up-close and in person.



In 1923, Oskar von Miller of the Deutsches Museum commissioned the Carl Zeiss Works to design a mechanism that projects an image of celestial bodies onto a dome. This was achieved by Walther Bauersfeld and the invention became known as a planetarium when it debuted the next year. Its popularity quickly spread, and by 1929, there were fifteen in Germany, two in Italy, one in Russia, and one in Austria.[6] Max Adler, a former executive with Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Chicago, Illinois, had recently retired to focus on philanthropic endeavors, primarily on behalf of the local musical and Jewish communities. However, after listening to a friend describe a Munich planetarium, Adler decided that one would fit in well within the emerging Museum Campus in Chicago. Adler visited the Munich planetarium with his cousin, architect Ernest Grunsfeld, Jr., whom Adler would commission to design the Chicago structure.[5] He also learned about a sale of astronomical instruments and antiques by W. M. Mensing in Amsterdam, which he purchased the following year. The Mensing Collection became the focus of the Astronomical Museum.[7] Adler offered $500,000 in 1928 for the construction of the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.[6]

The Adler Planetarium was originally planned as a part of the Museum of Science and Industry.

The planetarium was originally considered for part of the Museum of Science and Industry, an endeavor led by Adler's brother-in-law Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald was determined to convert the former Palace of Fine Arts of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition into a museum, but was struggling to manage the many required renovations. These delays caused Adler to look elsewhere for a location.[8] The South Park Commissioners, the precursor to the Chicago Park District, had just completed Northerly Island, the first of five intended (but otherwise never executed) recreational islands that were to be consistent with Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago. The Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum opened on Adler's birthday, May 12, 1930. The Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Grunsfield a gold medal for his design.[5] The planetarium hosted the 44th meeting of the American Astronomical Society later that year.[9]

Early history[edit]

1939 poster advertising the planetarium

Philip Fox, who had been the director of the Dearborn Observatory at Northwestern University since 1909, was named the institution's first director.[6] Fox had recently been in conflict with Northwestern administrators, who would not allow his student Maude Bennot to continue her graduate work. Fox agreed to the position at the planetarium at half of the $7,500 salary offered under the condition that Bennot be appointed his research assistant.[10] Focused on expanding the planetarium as a research institution rather than a tourist attraction, the board of directors dismissed Fox in 1940.[11] With the dismissal of Fox, Bennot was appointed acting director. This made her the first woman to lead a planetarium in the United States and probably the world. By 1944, wartime budget cuts left her as the only employee. However, Bennot's status was never considered permanent by the Park District, who dismissed her in 1945 following the death of Fox. She was replaced by F. Wagner Schlesinger, who had been appointed the previous year by Park District board president Robert J. Dunham.[12]

The Space Race that began in the late 1950s renewed a national interest in astronomy. In 1967, a committee was formed by Mayor Richard J. Daley to review the building and plan for the future. The ensuing report recommended the formation of a board of trustees and the expansion of the educational program. These goals were achieved and a new Mark VI Zeiss projector was installed. Joseph M. Chamberlain of the Hayden Planetarium was appointed director in 1968 and oversaw the construction of a $4 million underground facility. It was opened on May 12, 1973, the 43rd anniversary of the museum. Three years later, the planetarium board of directors was declared largely independent of the Park District. 1977 saw another expansion, the Doane Observatory, featuring a 16-inch (410 mm) telescope.[3]

Recent additions[edit]

The Henry Moore sculpture Man Enters the Cosmos, depicting a large functional sundial, was erected outside of the Adler Planetarium building in 1980.[13] A $6.5 million renovation and addition was completed in 1991. New to the planetarium was a cafe, astronomy research history center, and a "Stairway to the Stars" special effects show. Also that year, Paul H. Knappenberger, Jr., succeeded Chamberlain as director. Throughout the 1990s, the planetarium expanded its theatrical offerings. The Sky Pavilion, Another major expansion was announced in June 1996 and was completed three years later. This added four galleries, a restaurant, a terrace, and a virtual reality theater. Months later, a restoration of the original building finished. A $1.1 million renovation of the Kroc Universe Theater in 2007 enabled it to present 3D shows. The annual meeting of the International Planetarium Society was held at the Adler in 2008. The Grainger Sky Theater was updated in 2011 to project high-definition images at a resolution of 8,000 x 8,000 pixels. This creates the largest single seamless digital image in the world.[3]

The planetarium offers several options for admission. A Basic Pass, good for one day access to all exhibitions and one show (excluding Destination Solar System), is sold for $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children. For an additional five dollars per person, an All Access Pass allows unlimited shows. All Access Passes can be purchased in advance online for an addition five dollars per person. A general admission pass to the planetarium, which allows access to exhibits but no shows, costs $12 for adults and $8 for children.[14]

Discounts are available for students and seniors. Illinois residents can occasionally take advantage of discount days, which allows free general admission. Active military personnel and teachers are allowed free general admission. Residents of Chicago receive a discount on all passes. Membership to the museum is also available starting at $89. The planetarium also participates in the CityPASS program ($94 adults, $79 children), which functions as a one-day pass to five city museums. Smart Destinations offers a Go Chicago Card that grants admission to twenty-five Chicago attractions including the planetarium for a discounted price.[14]

The view of the Chicago skyline from the planetarium is considered one of the best in the city.[15]

The 2010 Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium


The Adler Planetarium’s Astronomy department and Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy conduct and publish research for both the scientific community as well as the general public. Their studies include planetary geology, star formation, gamma-rays, and telescope observing. The Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy cares for, studies, and interprets the Adler’s collections. Since the opening of the Adler, the collection has grown to approximately 8,000 objects, books, works on paper, archival collections, paintings, and photographs. The Adler boasts the largest and most significant collection of historic scientific instruments in the Western Hemisphere[16] as well as one of the most significant collections in the world.

The Adler Citizen Science Department is also the U.S. headquarters of The Zooniverse, one of the world's leading citizen science platform and a global collaboration across several institutions that design and build citizen science projects.[17] As of early 2014, the Zooniverse has engaged more than 1,100,000 online volunteers as active scientists by discovering planets, mapping the surface of Mars and detecting solar flares.[18]

Far Horizons is the Adler’s high-altitude balloon program. Participants design, build, and launch experiments flown to heights above 100,000 feet (30,000 m) on high altitude balloons. The program offers real world opportunities for students and the community to participate in science, mathematics, physics, and engineering challenges.

Opened in 1977, the Doane Observatory is the largest aperture telescope available to the public in the Chicago area. With its 20-inch (0.5 m) diameter mirror, the Doane can gather over 5,000 times more light than an unaided human eye, allowing guests to see celestial objects like the Moon, planets, stars, and galaxies that are trillions of miles away. The original telescope, a 16-inch Cassegrain refracting telescope built specifically for the Adler, was retired in 1987 and replaced with the current telescope.

In 2013, the Adler Planetarium announced plans to undertake the first major renovation of the Doane Observatory. Expected completion in 2015, renovations will include the addition of an indoor classroom, a restroom, HVAC systems, accessible entry ramps, and telescope and technology upgrades.


The Adler's second domed theater, the Definiti Theater takes audiences on a spectacular journey in any one of its featured shows using an all-digital projection system. The largest of Adler's domed theaters, the Grainger Sky Theater offers audiences unique shows using the most immersive, technologically enhanced theater experience ever developed for a planetarium. The Adler's newly redesigned Samuel C. Johnson Family Star Theater allows audiences to the chance to see one incomparable show in dazzling, high definition 3D.


The Adler's permanent exhibition Planet Explorers allows families with young children to learn what it takes to be part of a mission to outer space. In Our Solar System, visitors virtually explore the Sun and its surrounding eight planets. Highlights of this exhibition include tangible pieces of Mars, the Moon, a meteorite and the asteroids Ceres and Vesta. In The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time, visitors experience how the Universe evolved over 13.7 billion years, from the Big Bang to modern day. Visitors see how galaxies, stars, and planets were created as the Universe grew.

Constructed in 1913, the Atwood Sphere is Chicago’s oldest large-scale mechanical planetarium. It is 15 feet (4.6 m) in diameter with 692 holes in its metal surface, allowing light to enter and show the positions of the brightest stars in the night sky. When in operation, the sphere slowly rotates around the viewer putting the stars in motion. Originally, this device was not only a planetarium display, but was also used to train pilots to navigate the nighttime sky. Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass presents the technology used to gather information about our Universe. The exhibition shows how instruments have changed our concepts of the Universe and our place in it. Telescopes has recently received a new addition that explores the South Pole Telescope.

Shoot For The Moon highlights the stories of human space exploration. The exhibition begins with A Journey with Jim Lovell, featuring the fully restored Gemini 12 spacecraft and the Lovell Collection of personal space artifacts. In the second gallery, Mission: Moon, visitors discover the thrills and dangers of being an explorer. The interactive Moon Wall allows visitors to "fly" over the lunar surface, exploring the most up-to-date images from the Moon’s surface while listening to personal narrations by Captain James A. Lovell, Jr.

Astronomy in Culture tells the tale of the understanding and use of astronomy in ancient and medieval cultures. This encompasses two exhibitions, Bringing Heavens to Earth and Universe in Your Hands. In Bringing Heavens To Earth, visitors learn about cultures that have engaged in the timeless quest to understand their place in the Universe, and found diverse ways to incorporate astronomy into their daily lives. In Universe In Your Hands, visitors are taken to a time in history when people believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe. This exhibition features astrolabes, armillary spheres, and sundials to illustrate the medieval European and Middle Eastern conception of the Universe. The medieval classroom explores how school was in the Middle Ages compared to today. Visitors learn how to use early astronomy tools including astrolabes and sundials.

The Space Visualization Lab presents the experience of a working visualization lab to visitors. Astronomy Conversations are engaging sessions that provide Adler visitors the opportunity to meet astronomers, scientists, and historians in an informal setting, and learn more through hands-on exhibitions. CyberSpace is an electronic exhibition gallery displaying the latest space science discoveries. Computer-based interactive exhibitions, such as Vision Stations, provide realistic experiences of the universe and a Cyber Classroom for information on the latest space science technology. It is the central component of the Adler's Center for Space Science Education, which has been supported by NASA and the U.S. Department of Education.

Ongoing Programs[edit]

Adler After Dark, the Adler Planetarium’s exclusive 21+ evening event, was recently voted “Best After Hours Event” by the Chicago Reader[19] and “Best Date Night” by Chicago Parent.[20] Guests at Adler After Dark enjoy open museum access, themed programs, sky shows and breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline. AstroOvernights give families a chance to spend a night under the stars at the Adler. Guests enjoy open museum access, a sky show and educational programming. The Astronomy Department at the Adler brings current topics in astronomy to guests through a quarterly lecture series.

The Adler hosts quarterly “Hack Days”, encouraging software developers, designers, scientists, engineers, artists and people who just like to create and build, to work together to solve interesting problems. Hacking events at the Adler provide a bridge to science and technology communities within the city of Chicago. Participants at the Adler‘s summer camps build rockets, launch high altitude balloons, and explore the edge of space. The Adler's hands-on summer camps are designed for children ages 5–14. With seven unique camps to choose from, young space and technology enthusiasts are introduced to science concepts while engaging their creativity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ a b "Adler Planetarium". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c "Adler History -- Adler Planetarium". Adler Planetarium. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  4. ^ Phillip Fox (September 1933). "Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum, An Account of the Optical Planetarium and a Brief Guide to the Museum". Lakeside Press. p. 8. 
  5. ^ a b c James H. Charleton (October 1985), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Adler Planetarium / Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum (PDF), National Park Service, retrieved June 22, 2009  and Accompanying 2 photos, exterior, from 1985. PDF (461 KB)
  6. ^ a b c "The Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum". Science LXX (1806): 137. August 9, 1929. 
  7. ^ Marche 2005, p. 59–60.
  8. ^ Marche 2005, p. 29.
  9. ^ Marche 2005, p. 200.
  10. ^ Marche 2005, p. 50.
  11. ^ Marche 2005, p. 54.
  12. ^ Marche 2005, p. 55–57.
  13. ^ "Art Inventories Catalogue (Man Enters the Cosmos)". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved October 22, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Visit the Adler". Adler Planetarium. Retrieved October 22, 2014. 
  15. ^ Time Out Chicago. London, UK: Universal House. 2009. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-84670-138-2. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Johnson, Steve (29 January 2014). "Want to aid science? You can Zooniverse". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-09-14. 
  18. ^ "Zooniverse". Retrieved 18 Feb 2014. 
  19. ^
  20. ^


  • Marche, Jordan (2005). Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930–1970. New Brunswick, NH: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813535760. 

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