Friday, January 27, 2017

Marshall Field Funds and Battles for “The Columbian Museum of Chicago” (The Field Museum of Natural History).

The Field Museum of Natural History was primarily an outgrowth of the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.
"Palace of Fine Arts" was initially named the "Fine Art Gallery" for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. It was later the Field Museum's first home, then became the Museum of Science and Industry. Why was it saved? It was the only building built as 'fireproof.' No foreign countries would have sent their fine art pieces and antiquities without a fireproof building.
The first published suggestion that a museum should be formed due to the exposition was, in the opinion of Frederick J.V. Skiff, the first Director of the Museum, an article by Professor F.W. Putnam in the Chicago Tribune of May 31, 1890. In that year and the following one, Putnam also addressed local bodies on this subject, and his views were duly reported in the newspapers.

In 1891, Dr. G. Brown Goode, then in charge of the United States National Museum, while in Chicago to consult with the exposition directors regarding government exhibits, emphatically pointed out to J.W. Ellsworth, a member of the foreign affairs committee, the opportunity afforded by the Exposition to establish a great museum. Mr. Ellsworth became an enthusiastic advocate of the plan, and he was able to interest other committee members, including William T. Baker, chairman.

As a result, purchases made abroad by this committee and equipment for some departments were viewed partly in relation to their usefulness for a future museum. Early in 1892, an organization called the Columbian Historical Association was formed, at the suggestion of members of this committee, to take advantage of the privilege granted by scientific societies to import exhibits free of duty. Funds contributed to this society by various individuals were regarded by Director Skiff as the first actually given on behalf of the Museum.

In July 1893, a letter by S.C. Eastman, published in the Tribune and followed by strong editorials in other newspapers, called attention anew to the desirability of a museum and aroused much public interest. In recognition of this interest, a committee of three exposition directors called a public meeting "to adopt measures to establish in Chicago a great museum that shall be a fitting memorial of the World's Columbian Exposition and a permanent advantage and honor to the city." This meeting, held on August 7, 1893, was attended by about one hundred leading citizens. As a result of the meeting, a committee was appointed to incorporate an institution that had been projected.

Under the name of "The Columbian Museum of Chicago," an application was made for incorporation, with sixty-five leading citizens as incorporators and fifteen as trustees. On September 16, 1893, a charter was applied for and granted. The object of the corporation was stated to be "the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge and the preservation and exhibition of objects illustrating art, archaeology, science, and history."

Meanwhile, officials of the exposition had become actively interested in the plan for the Museum and began to solicit and procure gifts and transfers of desirable exhibits from exhibitors. Response to the requests generally was hearty, and material for the new Museum accumulated rapidly. On September 14, A.W. Manning of the Evening Post suggested that holders of exposition stock donate their shares to the Museum. This suggestion ultimately brought, from about 1,100 persons, gifts of certificates totaling $1,500,000 in par value.

Thus, progress was rapidly and successfully made toward establishing a great museum. As time went on, however, and exhibits accumulated in large amounts, it was realized that an adequate endowment to ensure permanency to the institution was as yet far from being obtained. The countrywide financial stringency, which developed to alarming proportions in 1894, was already felt. Strenuous efforts to raise the needed amount failed to give the hoped-for results. By the middle of October, in the words of Director Skiff, "a period of discouragement came upon those at work for the Museum. Nothing but the faith, devotion, and courage of a few men prevented the disintegration of the preliminary organization and the practical abandonment of the Museum enterprise."

Among Chicago's citizens in 1893, none stood higher in the confidence and esteem of the public than Marshall Field. Born in Conway, Mass., in 1835, Mr. Field, in early life, had come to Chicago. Here he advanced rapidly until he had primarily created and become the head of a great business that occupied a leading place in the city and attained worldwide fame.

Mr. Field favored all plans for increasing Chicago's cultural and educational facilities. Moreover, it was known that any enterprise he set his hand in would be given wholehearted and permanent support.

Therefore, on October 24, 1893, Edward E. Ayer, a member of the museum association finance committee, who later became the first President of the Museum and throughout his life remained one of its most ardent and able supporters, called up Mr. Field and set forth the peculiar opportunity which the World's Columbian Exposition afforded to establish a great museum in the city. He called attention to the fact that no such institution, as yet, existed in Chicago and pointed out that the opportunity to create through the acquisition of exhibits of the exposition should not be allowed to lapse. At the end of the interview, Mr. Field remained noncommittal but promised to consider the matter. He evidently wished to assure himself of the plan's need, importance, and desirability before committing himself to its support. His consideration quickly resulted in a favorable decision, and on October 26, he announced that he would contribute the sum of $1,000,000 to establish the proposed museum.

The gratification of the committee on receiving this announcement can well be imagined. Everyone knew that it meant the success and permanence of an excellent museum for the city. It is doubtful if, up to that time, any museum had ever received so munificent a gift. As a single gift for museum purposes, it shattered all precedents.

The establishment of the Museum was assured, and other contributors promptly appeared. George M. Pullman and Harlow N. Higinbotham each subscribed $100,000. Other contributors of funds included Mrs. Mary D. Sturges, the McCormick Estate, P. D. Armour, Martin A. Ryerson, R. T. Crane, A. A. Sprague, and many other leading citizens. Together with donations of exposition stock, their contributions totaled nearly one-half million dollars by the end of the following year.

These funds enabled purchases of extensive collections or important exhibits shown at the exposition. Such assets included the War natural history collection, the Tiffany collection of gems, the collection of pre-Columbian gold ornaments, the Hassler ethnological collection from Paraguay, collections representing Javanese, Samoan, and Peruvian ethnology, and the Hagenbeck collection of about 600 ethnological objects from Africa, the South Sea Islands, British Columbia, et cetera.

A spirit of generous cooperation was aroused on all sides, and donations of exhibits and collections of great value were received in large numbers. Mr. Ayer presented his extensive anthropological collection, chiefly devoted to the ethnology of the North American Indian. The Museum was acquired by purchase and gift, and almost all the extensive collections made by the Department of Anthropology of the exposition. The technical and special collections created by the Department of Mines, mining and Metallurgy of the exposition were presented, together with the exhibition cases, as were also collections from 130 exhibitors in the same department. From exhibitors in agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing departments of the exposition, collections of timbers, oils, gums, resins, fibers, fruits, seeds, and grains were contributed in such a large quantity and variety as to ensure for the first time in any general natural history museum the formation of an adequate department of botany.

Fights broke out that involved bitter differences of opinion over the city's lakefront: Should it be left pristine or dotted with cultural amenities?

Two local moguls squared off: Marshall Field, who made State Street the city's shopping Rialto, on the side of a proposed museum, against Arron Montgomery Ward, who made Chicago the hub of the mail-order industry and was a staunch protector of the city's lakefront as a public space.

Lawsuits involving arcane legal principles were accompanied by insults worthy of a guttersnipe. Ward's attorney accused Field of building a monument to himself, facetiously adding: "And being a poor man, he could not afford to pay for a site. Now it is proposed to secure a site from the city of Chicago by violating a trust."

That battle, which would ultimately outlive one of the combatants, began October 27, 1893, when Field pledged to contribute $1 million ($33.5M today) toward a museum to permanently house exhibits from the World's Columbian Exposition, which was about to close. 

Others involved in the project recognized that a famous name attracts others with money. So a year later, the museum was renamed the Field Columbian Museum, subsequently shortened to The Field Museum, changes that lived up to their promise. John G. Shedd, the second president of Marshall Field & Co., would endow the aquarium alongside the Field Museum. Max Adler, vice president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., would do the same for the nearby planetarium.

It immediately put Field on a collision course with Montgomery Ward, the self-described guardian angel of Chicago's lakefront. Ward was defending the 1836 mandate to keep Chicago's lakefront public ground.

The Field Museum was initially sited for the lakeshore at Congress Parkway, and Ward filed a lawsuit upon its announcement. He claimed that when he purchased nearby property, "he relied on plats ... in which appeared the words: 'Public ground, a common to remain forever open, clear and free from any buildings or other obstruction whatever.'" Still, Ward was open to compromise, tired after years of hectoring and suing the city to clean up what is now Grant Park, which was then little more than a dumping ground. If guaranteed that the museum would be a unique exception, Ward would drop his opposition.

But developers were rushing proposals to the park's commissioners, who rejected Ward's offer. The game was on.

The combatants were very different types. The Field had a broad circle of friends, business associates, and fellow philanthropists to support his fight for the museum, and Ward was a loner who shunned social gatherings. 

Ward had one critical ally, however: Time. Like a sports team, he could win by running out the clock.

Field, who died in 1906, left an additional bequest of $8 million (Today: $226 M) for the museum, but his donation was contingent upon the city providing a site, free of charge and within six years of his death. Ward knew that he would win if he could keep the project tied up in the courts until midnight on January 1, 1912.

Accordingly, the legal papers flew back and forth, accompanied by a war of words. Field's supporters played on the public's heartstrings. 

There were oddball legal maneuvers. The Illinois legislature passed a bill in 1903 enabling the park board to void Ward's easement on Grant Park, his legal right to have it free of buildings. "You can pass all the state legislation you want to," an aide to Ward responded, "but it will not be constitutional if Mr. Ward complains." Indeed, the Illinois Supreme Court sided with Ward, as it did on several occasions.

Stymied, the museum's partisans offered ways out of the deadlock. Stanley Field, Marshall Field's nephew and successor, lobbied the state legislature in 1910 on behalf of a bill that would grant the museum submerged land in Lake Michigan to fill in and build on the resulting island. The project was dubbed the Atlantis Museum, but Ward vetoed it.

The park board offered a site in Garfield Park and then an alternate one in Jackson Park, the site of the World's Fair that gave birth to the museum project. The clock was ticking down, and the museum trustees were about to settle for the latter offer. But at the last minute, the Illinois Central Railroad offered land at 12th Street upon which it had planned to build a terminal.

That is where the Field Museum of Natural History was finally built, starting in September 1911.
The New Field Museum under construction. Date unknown.

The battle of the Titans had ended in a draw. Field got his museum, albeit posthumously. Ward, who died in 1913, lived to see his unspoiled lakefront. Chicagoans got both: a world-class museum and an incomparable shoreline.
The Field Museum of Natural History's opening day is May 2, 1921.
Perhaps balancing the exhausting struggle that accompanied its birth, the Field Museum opened without fanfare on May 2, 1921. "The doors were opened at 2 o'clock, and the first of the 8,000 guests entered," the Tribune observed. "Speeches and music would have been superfluous."

The Field Museum of Natural History was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Name Change Timeline
Originally named the "Columbian Museum of Chicago" in honor of its origins, it was incorporated by the State of Illinois on September 16, 1893, for the purpose of the "accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and the preservation and exhibition of artifacts illustrating art, archaeology, science, and history." The Columbian Museum of Chicago occupied the only building from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park, the Palace of Fine Arts. The building is now home to the "Museum of Science and Industry." 

On November 10, 1905, the museum's name was changed to the "Field Museum of Natural History" to honor its first significant benefactor, Marshall Field, and reflect its focus on the natural sciences.

By the late 1930s, the Field Museum had emerged as one of the three premier museums in the United States.

On December 6, 1943, the Trustees voted to change the Museum's name to Chicago Natural History Museum.

From 1943 to 1966, the name Field was completely removed, and the museum was recast as the Chicago Natural History Museum. But when Stanley Field, Marshall's nephew and the museum's president for over 50 years, passed away in 1966, its name was switched back to its pre-1943 moniker to honor the Field family's service again.

On March 1, 1966, Trustees voted to change the Museum's name back to "Field Museum of Natural History."

Excerpt from the "Bulletin Field Museum of Natural History." Vol.37, № 3, March 1966
Mr. Field's grandson, Marshall Field III, made contributions between 1925 and 1949 approximating in amount those of his grandfather. His major gift, made at the time of the Museum's 50th Anniversary in 1943, was the stimulus for the institution to enter the greatest period of growth in its history. From 1943 to 1965 the size of the staff doubled and the size of the collections more than tripled.

Stanley Field, the nephew of the first Marshall Field, served as President and Chairman of the Board of the Museum for more than 50 years, until his death in 1964. He made large financial contributions to the Museum, but even more important, he, more than any other individual, built the distinguished institution that exists today (in March 1966). Other members of the family have also served the Museum. Marshall Field II and Marshall Field IV were Trustees during their lifetimes, and Joseph N. Field has been a Trustee for more than 30 years.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. The photos show what looks to be a barren wasteland around the museum when it was being built and opened.


The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.