Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum
Adler Planetarium Entry
|Location:||1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL|
|Architectural style:||No Style Listed|
|Added to NRHP:||February 27, 1987|
|Designated NHL:||February 27, 1987|
The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois was the first planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest in existence today. Adler was founded and built in 1930 by the philanthropist Max Adler, with the assistance of the first director of the planetarium, Philip Fox. The Adler Planetarium opened to the public on May 12, 1930. On the occasion of its dedication on May 10, 1930, Max Adler stated
The popular conception of the universe is too meager; the planets and the stars are too far removed from general knowledge. In our reflections, we dwell too little upon the concept that the world and all human endeavor within it are governed by established order and too infrequently upon the truth that under the heavens everything is interrelated, even as each of us to the other.
Located on Northerly Island, it is a part of Chicago's Museum Campus along with the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. 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. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
1930: America's First Planetarium 
Since ancient times, humankind has looked to the heavens with awe and wonder. A sense of curiosity inspired a search for understanding of the patterns of motion and changes in the paths of the Moon, Sun, and planets. Throughout history many attempts were made to create models to illustrate the relationship between celestial bodies.
It was not until 1923, however, that Walther Bauersfeld, Ph.D., the scientific director of the firm of Carl Zeiss in Jena, Germany, designed an optical projection device that effectively created the illusion of a night sky. Using light produced by an intricate machine at the center of a hemispherical room, he could project images of celestial objects onto the inner surface of a dome. With this innovation the modern planetarium was born.
In 1928, Max Adler, a senior officer and early stockholder in Sears, Roebuck and Company, decided to invest part of his fortune in a public facility that would benefit future generations of Chicagoans. He learned of the mechanism that could dramatically replicate the night sky that was being demonstrated in Europe and was intrigued enough to personally investigate this instrument. Accompanied by his wife and architect Ernest Grunsfeld, he went to Germany and was so impressed that he donated the funds to construct the first modern planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.
The Adler Planetarium was opened to the public on May 12, 1930. In Mr. Adler's dedication address, he explained some of the reasons for his decision to build it:
"Chicago has been striving to create, and in large measure has succeeded in creating, facilities for its citizens of today to live a life richer and more full of meaning than was available for the citizens of yesterday. Toward the creation of such opportunities I have desired to contribute. The popular conception of the Universe is too meager; the Planets and the stars are too far removed from general knowledge. In our reflections, we dwell too little upon the concept that the world and all human endeavor within it are governed by established order and too infrequently upon the truth that under the heavens everything is inter-related, even as each of us to the other."
In a further demonstration of foresight, Mr. Adler also acquired an impressive collection of historical artifacts in astronomy, navigation, time keeping, and engineering. These instruments formed the basis of a collection that has come to be regarded as the finest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and one of the three most complete collections in the world.
Mr. Adler made an agreement with the South Park Commissioners (later the Chicago Park District) to maintain and operate the museum. Philip Fox, Ph.D., a well-known professor of astronomy at Northwestern University, was appointed the first director.
From its inception, the new institution was a tremendous success. Visitors came in great numbers to see this dramatic new facility. During the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933-34, the museum was within the fairgrounds and was operated as one of the outstanding features of the fair. Under succeeding directors Maude Bennot, Wagner Schlesinger, Albert Shatzel, and Robert I. Johnson the museum continued to attract millions of visitors through the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
1950-1968: Years of Change 
Max Adler died in 1952, but he had lived to witness nearly a quarter century of planetarium success. Other members of his family continued to maintain an interest in the museum, especially his son Robert. Another influence was the "space race" starting with the 1957 Sputnik launch.
In the mid-1950s, Robert S. Adler and other friends of the Adler formed the Chicago Planetarium Society, an organization devoted to promoting an interest in the institution and in its education services. Mr. Adler served as the Society president until 1968.
The beginnings of the space race and dramatic new discoveries in astronomy in the late 1950s and early 1960s demanded that all planetariums review their programs and plans for the future. In 1967, with the encouragement of the Chicago Planetarium Society, Mayor Richard J. Daley appointed a committee chaired by Hale Nelson to review the status of the Adler Planetarium and to make recommendations for the future. Their report called for the creation of a Board of Trustees to share responsibility for the management of the institution with the commissioners of the Chicago Park District. It also recommended strengthening the professional staff and expanding and modernizing the entire education program. To accomplish these goals, the 1930s building was refurbished which included the replacement of the original Zeiss planetarium projector with a new Mark VI Zeiss unit and the construction of an expansion to the building to fulfill the needs of generations to come.
1968-1991: Years of Expansion 
Joseph M. Chamberlain, Ed.D., formerly Director of the American Museum-Hayden Planetarium in New York City, accepted the invitation to come to Chicago in 1968 as director of the Adler Planetarium to help implement the recommendations of the Mayor's committee. A new $4 million underground facility was opened to the public on May 12, 1973, the Adler's forty-third birthday. In 1976, the Board of Trustees assumed full management responsibility, but continued to receive support from the Chicago Park District.
In 1977, the Doane Observatory was opened. In March 1991, the museum unveiled the results of a $6.5 million renovation project. New additions included the Stairway to the Stars special-effects sky show escalator, a Planetarium Cafe, the History of Astronomy Research Center, and a Sky Show Production Suite. Between the late 1970s and the early 2000s, the main entrance was closed off and an underground entrance facing the planetarium in the form of a stairway surrounded by a rectangular, glass structure was constructed in its place. That entrance would eventually be demolished in the early 2000s, and the original entrance being reused once again.
After 23 years of leadership during which he firmly established the Adler Planetarium as one of Chicago's major cultural institutions, Dr. Chamberlain retired in 1991.
1991-1999: Launching into the Millennium 
In 1991, Knappenberger helped create a vision for the Adler at the turn of the millennium and initiated a Long-Range and Strategic Plan to transform the Adler. The goal was to become the world's leading public center for interpreting the exploration of the Universe.
Throughout the 1990s the Adler evolved as an institution, using audience research and evaluation techniques to produce 11 planetarium shows, expand educational programming, and develop over a dozen permanent and temporary exhibitions. This decade also welcomed the beginning of a volunteer program in 1993, the Adler Council and its Celestial Ball in 1994, and the launch of Adler's website in 1995.
In June 1996, the Adler made its own astronomical news when it publicly announced the building expansion project at the annual Celestial Ball. On February 25, 1997, the Adler celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for the central component of this new vision: a facility expansion project culminating in the Sky Pavilion, an architecturally striking addition to the existing 1930s landmark structure on Chicago's lakefront.
Less than two years later, on January 8, 1999, the 60,000-square-foot Sky Pavilion opened to the public. The new addition featured four new exhibition galleries, including the historic Atwood Sphere, a telescope terrace, a lakefront restaurant and the world's first StarRider Theater, a compelling virtual environment in which audiences can actively explore the Universe. The critically acclaimed architecture of the Sky Pavilion was conceived by Lohan Associates of Chicago and artfully combines history with contemporary design. This also resulted in the sundial sculpture in front of the planetarium to be moved off to the side on one of the walkways and the road around the planetarium being demolished and shortened into a u-turn in front of the entrance.
The renovation of the original 1930s building reached completion October 1, 1999. The renovated space contained two new gift shops, the Gateway to the Universe and History of Astronomy Galleries, along with the refurbished Sky Theater, completing the $40 million renovation project.
The years since the founding of the planetarium have seen remarkable growth in our understanding of the nature and extent of the Universe, including landings by Americans on the Moon and the exploration by space probes of most of the planets in the solar system. The Adler Planetarium welcomed this growth of knowledge by keeping pace with the times, leading its millions of visitors to a better understanding of the Universe, and placing itself on the leading edge among science museums as it entered the 21st century.
2000-2010: To CyberSpace and Beyond 
In 2001, the Center for Space Science Education opened at the Adler with the help of NASA. The center includes the CyberSpace Learning Center, which combines a distance learning broadcast studio, multi-unit computer classroom, and an exhibition gallery offering daily updates from NASA.
The Adler opened a new permanent exhibition, Bringing the Heavens to Earth, in 2002. Visitors learn how cultures around the world have explained and utilized the movement of the stars. Aliens at the Adler kicked off 2003, which was themed around the possibilities of life on other worlds. Two new sky shows, Search for Alien Worlds and Alien Encounters, and a temporary exhibition, Stranded in an Alien Lab, invited visitors to imagine and explore the universe for other forms of life. The year 2004 was a big year for planetarium shows. Mars Now!, Mars Rocks!/Future Frontier, The Future is Wild, Sonic Vision, Stars of the Pharaohs, and Secrets of Saturn debuted.
On May 12, 2005, the Adler launched its 75th anniversary with a renewed commitment to academic achievement, public education, community partnerships and museum visibility. Retired NASA Astronaut James A. Lovell, Jr. served as chairman of the Adler's 75th anniversary celebration.
On May 11, 2007, the Adler unveiled its new Space Visualization Laboratory to bring the latest images of space science to the public. The museum completed a $1.1 million renovation of the Kroc Universe Theater, installing state-of-the-art technologies that enable the Adler to present 3-D shows and space visualizations.
The Adler hosted the largest-ever International Planetarium Society Conference in 2008, welcoming more than 600 participants to Chicago.
To commemorate the International Year of Astronomy celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of the telescope in studying the heavens, the Adler unveiled a special temporary exhibition, new sky shows, public observing events, and new programs in 2009. Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass traces the evolution of these fascinating instruments and their role in on our understanding of the Universe. The yearlong celebration provided ample opportunity to communicate the impact of astronomy on cultures over the past 400 years and spark an astronomical interest in the next generation of explorers.
One of the Adler’s most imaginative exhibitions, Planet Explorers, was opened on March 26, 2010. Planet Explorers supports the institution’s youngest visitors, ages 3-8, and their caregivers as they explore the world and Universe around them.
As it had been at its opening in 1930, the Adler is again at the leading edge of science education technology. In 2011, the Adler transformed its historic Sky Theater to offer audiences the most immersive, technologically enhanced theater experience ever developed. The Grainger Sky Theater now projects the largest single seamless digital image in the world with an ultra-high definition screen resolution of more than 8k x 8k pixels, far surpassing the cinematic standard of 2k x 4k pixels. The transformed theater uses special floor-lighting effects and screen images that extend beyond the traditional 180-degree dome, presenting a space-simulation environment surpassed only by actual space travel.
Outside Structures 
Man Enters the Cosmos: See main article.
America's Courtyard: This is a stone structure located behind the planetarium composed of 60 stone blocks arranged to resemble a spiral galaxy. The structure was built by Brazilian artists Denise Milan and Ary Perez in 1998.
Terraces: These are terraces outside the planetarium that feature coin-op telescopes allowing visitors to look out at the Chicago skyline.
Doane Observatory: This observatory, located behind the planetarium is home to the largest aperture telescope in the Chicago area. It is only open at night during Adler After Dark events.
Copernicus Statue: A 8.5 ft. tall bronze sculpture of the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who was famous for his heliocentric universe theory.
Zodiac Plaques: These twelve plaques located both inside and outside the planetarium depict the twelve zodiac constellations.
Upper Level 
Rainbow Lobby: The lobby located in the entrance to the planetarium. The lobby gets its name from the rainbows produced by the prismatic glass doors leading into the building. The main centerpiece of the lobby is a plaque showing the words of Max Adler surrounded by eight planets (interestingly enough, the plaque does not include Pluto, which is no longer a planet; the dwarf planet was discovered after the plaque was built, but before the planetarium was opened).
Welcome Gallery: The Clark Family Welcome Gallery is a hallway lined with fabric walls held up by aluminum beams that introduces visitors to the science of astronomy and the workings of the universe as with the prospects of space travel. The hallway features interactive holograms that can be used to solve astronomy-themed puzzles with the wave of a hand.
Grainger Sky Theater: The centerpiece of the planetarium. It is the oldest of the three planetarium theaters, and most of the planetarium's shows, like Welcome to the Universe are shown here. In 2011 the Sky Theater's traditional Zeiss projector was upgraded and replaced with mostly digital film projectors.
Our Solar System: One of the two exhibits in the Sky Pavilion, this exhibit focuses mainly on our Solar System, its planets, and the various space missions that go with them. The exhibit's centerpiece is a model Solar System composing of a model Sun made from the domed roof of the Definiti Space Theater, with an Earth the size of a classroom globe and a Jupiter the size of an adult human. Other features include a motorized orrery representing the orbits of the planets up to Mars, the meteorite that created Meteor Crater in Arizona, a transparent, fluid-filled globe simulating the movement of clouds on gas giant planets, a Mars orbiter simulator, a replica of Mars Rover Opportunity, and an impact simulator where a paintball cannon would shoot craters into the ground when a countdown timer reaches zero. In 2007, a plaque defining the new criteria for what makes a planet and what doesn't, as with Pluto's demotion was inserted into the exhibit, and in 2012 the exhibit was overhauled so that all of the planets get their own station with facts about each planet, the models moved to separate areas and used as location indicators, and virtual monitors showing a CG planet made with the "Solar Walk" app for the iPhone and iPad. Other new features include interactive stations showing rocks from the Moon, the planet Mars, and the asteroids Ceres and Vesta, a second Solar System model showing the distances between planets and the Sun with the planets' orbits being color-coded rings and each astronomical unit being a white ring, and a planets' mission destination monitor remiscent of an airport flight departure/arrival listings monitor.
Earth Globe: A 6-foot-diameter motorized Rand McNally Earth globe that has been in the planetarium since the late 1970s. It has been moved several times, first in the lobby, then in a former underground exhibition gallery, then in an unused area in the lower level, and currently in the Solar System exhibit gallery. Globes like this one are very common on some science museums, with a similar globe appearing in the Field Museum located just right next door.
Planet Explorers: A section in the Sky Pavilion that serves as a child's play area depicting a mission to the "Planet X", where children would pretend to be astronauts and mission control members via simulations and space-themed playground structures. The exhibit is split into three sections: Exploring Earth, which composes of a room resembling a mock-up of a Frank Lloyd Wright-based house demonstrating what most people find around the house and outside, electronic microscopes that magnify objects normally found outside to show their details, and an overhanging dome simulating the night sky as viewd from the backyard; Exploring Space, which is a playground resembling a ground control center and a mock spaceship to demonstrate children how astronauts get launched into space, complete with countdown, and a simulated spacewalk taking place in a dark maze-like room surrounded by glass walls with light emitting from holes drilled into the walls to simulate starlight; and Exploring Planet X, which is a second playground area simulating an alien planet, featuring remote-controlled Mars rover replicas, and larger pedal-powered vehicles called "X-Movers" that are used to roam this "planet"'s surface.
Shoot for The Moon: This exhibit focus primarily on Moon exploration, both in the past and in the future. The first section begins with a gallery dedicated to the Gemini 7 and 12 astronaut Jim Lovell Jr., featuring some of Lovell's belongings and the actual Gemini XII space capsule, while the second half focuses on the future of lunar exploration, including the dangers of space travel and the possibility of building settlements on the Moon's surface. Interactive features include a "Moon Wall" showing a projected display of the Moon's surface, a lunar landing simulator reminiscent of classic 1980s video games, a "Lunar Dangers Lab" theater where a hologram robot named "ALEX" (short for "Analyst of Lunar Exploration EXtremes") shows the dangers of space exploration including cosmic radiation and micrometeorites, and a "Moon Jump" simulator, where children would pretend to be astronauts on the Moon via a green screen.
Lower Level 
Definiti Space Theater: This theater, formerly known as the StarRider Theater, is one of the first digital planetarium theaters ever. Shows like Sesame Street: One World, One Sky, Undiscovered Worlds and Night Sky Live! are shown here.
S. C. Johnson Star Theater: This is the planetarium's second theater. It is a theater that focuses on primarily 3D shows like 3D Sun and Space Junk 3D. Outside the theater is a small exhibition gallery showing the many different types of stars as with the varying life cycles. Up until 1999, the Star Theater and the Sky Theater were once connected by an escalator known as the "Stairway to the Stars."
CyberSpace: An interactive exhibit where the latest space discoveries and images are all projected onto various computer monitors located throughout the exhibit.
Space Visualization Lab: This small area, focused primarily on the latest studies of the universe, is only open on certain hours of the day.
Astronomy & Culture: This gallery focuses primarily on the history of astronomy and how it is used from culture to culture. There are two sections of this gallery: "Bringing Heavens to Earth" discusses how astronomy is used by many ancient civilizations and why it is considered to be the oldest science, with interactives like a diorama showing how the Incans uses the Pleiades cluster to plant potatoes, a model pyramid cutaway showing how constellations are important to the afterlife, and how the movement of the planets can determine the fate of an Assyrian king; while "Universe in Your Hands" moves on to how astronomy was used by people in the Middle Ages, in both Medieval Europe and the Middle East. The galler showcases a huge number of historical astronomical devices like orreries, sundials, astrolabes, and armillary spheres, as well as a simulated medieval classroom.
Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass': This gallery focuses on the history of telescopes and people constantly develop new ways to look at the stars over time. Some features here include famous telescopes like the Galileo, Herschel, and Dearborn telescopes, cutaway of telescopes that show how they work, a table showing how prisms bend light, a second (nonmotorized) orrery depicting the Solar System's planets up to Uranus, and an interactive cosmic ray detector that demonstrates how cosmic rays are detected.
Galaxy Wall: This is a mural first made in 2009 that shows the largest complete photo of the Milky Way Galaxy to date, as compiled by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Atwood Sphere: This giant metal sphere is the first planetarium ever built. This giant metal sphere, first built in 1913, has 692 holes drilled into it to represent the night sky at the time. Surrounding interactives include a video demonstrating the history of the sphere, as with small clear plastic spheres simulating the movement of the stars from different latitudes.
The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time: The planetarium's newest exhibit gallery, this exhibit focuses primarily on our place in the universe, as with its distant past and its possible futures. Interactives include a postcard maker and a game focusing on the possibilities of life and its building blocks in the universe.
Activity Carts: These are randomly placed carts seen throughout the planetarium where curators show hands-on experiments related to astronomy and space exploration.
Former Exhibits 
The Milky Way Galaxy: This former exhibit, located where Planet Explorers is now, focused primarily on the Milky Way and the stars it comprises, featuring a giant balance showing the masses of two differently sized stars. Elements of that exhibit are now part of the Galaxy wall the S.C. Johnson Star Theater, as well as the fact that half of the "Sun" model is still colored red. Also, a bench from that exhibit is now inside the Space Visualization lab.
Universe Gallery and Space Walk: This former exhibit located where Shoot for the Moon is now, focused primarily on our place in the universe, as well as having a small maze-like area surrounded by glass walls with lights shining from tiny holes drilled through them to simulate starlight to give the impression of one floating in space. Elements of the former is now incorporated into the Universe Gallery in the lower level, while a similar spacewalk maze can be seen inside the Planet Explorers children's area.
Pritzker Gallery of Cosmology: This former exhibit in the lower level was located where the new Universe Gallery is located now. Some exhibit items were eventually moved into the Astronomy in Culture galleries.
Mars Rover: This former Solar System exhibit once allowed visitors to control a mock-up Mars rover with computer commands. The area was eventually converted into a diorama featuring a replica of Mars Rover Opportunity, but similar rovers can be operated in the Planet Explorers area.
Lights, Spectra, Action!: Elements of this exhibit are now part of the Astronomy in Culture gallery.
Former Underground Exhibit gallery: This exhibit gallery once contained now-forgotten features like the "Space Transporters", which showed one's weight on another planet, the former Solar System model, the Planet Wall (a series of lighted hemispheres on a wall representing the Sun and planets), and "Solar System Vacation", a video documenting that if the Solar System was shrunk down to the size of the United States, with the Sun located where the planetarium would be, then Earth's orbit would be located in Gurnee, where Six Flags Great America would be; Jupiter in Detroit, MI; Uranus in New York City, NY; and Pluto in Los Angeles, CA. Since 1999 this area was long since closed off to the public and converted into office space, and according to one curator, the Planet Wall is still inside one of its hallways, except now shut off permanently and rendered useless.
Image gallery 
1939 WPA poster
See also 
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Adler Planetarium". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
- "Adler History -- Adler Planetarium". Adler Planetarium. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Phillip Fox (1933-09). "Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum, An Account of the Optical Planetarium and a Brief Guide to the Museum". Lakeside Press. p. 5.
- Phillip Fox (1933-09). "Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum, An Account of the Optical Planetarium and a Brief Guide to the Museum". Lakeside Press. p. 8.
- 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 PDF (461 KB)
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