Founder’s Week Timeline Part I: 1856-1894

Blog 20
January 13, 2014

Explore the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences from 1857 to 2014 in this special 3-part timeline series.

A group of men interested in natural sciences begins to meet in offices of fellow member, Dr. Edmund Andrews. Other original members were: Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman.

“Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” officially founded only eleven years after the Smithsonian Institution and 36 years before the Field Museum of Natural History.

“A definite organization was completed at a meeting held January 13, 1857…[and] officers elected”.

Academy incorporated into Illinois state law as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences.”

“A majority of the members of the Academy, acting in accordance with a vote of the Academy, have incorporated themselves under the title of The Chicago Academy of Sciences….”

Robert Kennicottseated

February 22 – Meeting held to discuss creation of natural history museum with Robert Kennicott’s specimens as the “core collection”; resolution adopted by attendees to create a museum and to appoint a committee to act as trustee of any funds raised.

March 23 – Robert Kennicott appointed “Curator of the Museum” by the Board of Trustees.

April 13 – Committee appointed on February 22 turned into the Board of Trustees through an amendment to the Academy’s constitution.

William Stimpson etching with signature 3

January 1 – The Academy opened as a museum to the public in rooms in the Metropolitan Block located at 134 North LaSalle Street.

February 16 – Act of Incorporation passed by the Illinois House and Senate for the Academy.

William Stimpson became the Curator and Secretary of the Academy replacing Robert Kennicott who was leaving Chicago on an expedition to Alaska. Kennicott met Stimpson while working in Washington, D.C. as both men worked for the Smithsonian Institution.

April 7 – Board of Trustees elects Robert Kennicott to the office of “Director of the Academy” while he is in Alaska on his exploration trip.

May 13 – Robert Kennicott dies in Alaska on the Nulato River.

June 7 – Fire in the Metropolitan Block where the Academy rented space for exhibits damaged the museum’s holdings, including specimens and library materials.

November 12 – William Stimpson elected as Director of the Academy.

Land is purchased on the corner of Wabash and Van Buren streets for a new museum building.

Academy opens in new rented spaces on Thirtieth Street between Indiana and Prairie Avenues.

Chicago Microscopical Club (State Microscopical Society of Illinois) is organized as an independent organization but maintains close affiliation with Chicago Academy of Sciences through 1950s, using Academy spaces for meetings and education programs. Many of the founders of the Club are also founders of Academy, such as Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson and Dr. Edmund Andrews.

The Academy’s collection is estimated to be the fourth largest in the country.

October 8-10 – The Great Chicago Fire destroys much of Chicago; the Academy’s building and holdings are decimated, including materials housed in a special “fire-proof” vault. Apparently a keystone fell through the top of the vault during the fire, thus creating an opening and allowing the fire into the vault.

May 26 – Director, Dr. William Stimpson, dies nine months after the Great Fire. It is thought that he died of heartbreak as he lost his life’s work in the fire, stored in the Academy’s “fire-proof” vault.

Academy moved into the Interstate Exposition Building on the lake front. This was a temporary structure that later was demolished to build the Chicago Art Institute.

Real estate tycoon, Matthew Laflin, donated $75,000 to construct a new museum. The building was to be named the “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” Total funds available for the new building were $100,000; the Laflin donation represented 75% of the total costs of the building. $25,000 received from the Board of Commissioners of Lincoln Park.

October 10 – The cornerstone for the Academy’s new building is laid.

October 30 – The World’s Columbian Exposition closes and many exhibits of plants, fossils, and animals originally displayed at the Exposition remain. Academy Board of Trustee, Edward Ayer, proposes accepting and incorporating these specimens into the Academy’s collection, but other Trustees are wary, citing the need to quickly launch the massive fund drive needed to quickly finish the building as well as transporting and finding housing for the specimens. Ayer resigns from the Board and turns to Marshall Field for the funds to build a new museum with Field’s name, ultimately becoming the Field Museum of Natural History.

Chicago Academy of Sciences circa 1894

October 31 – The Academy’s new building is dedicated and opens in Lincoln Park. The institution’s name, “Chicago Academy of Sciences,” was engraved on the front arch accompanied by the dedication of the building, “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” This building was referred to internally as the “Laflin Building.” The building was originally intended to be the north wing of a larger museum building with additions to be constructed in the future.

Chicago Academy of Sciences Laflin Building circa 1894

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