Tourists in Our Own Home Base- Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

Exterior ladies

 When we are in the Chicago area, usually we are recuperating from our travels and do not take advantage of all the amazing things available in the city! Since we lived in the suburbs before traveling and had a newborn, we have been to the zoos and Shedd aquarium but saved the museums for later. We made it a goal this year to take the time and energy to go out, explore and experience as much as we can wherever we are. We started off the year with an all-day outing at the Museum of Science and Industry, the largest science museum in the Western hemisphere!

The Museum is housed in the space that functioned as the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. The interior and exterior had interesting architectural highlights with a giant dome as the focal point of the main floor. It was founded in 1933 and has over 35,000 artifacts inside. We selected this museum as our first to visit with a toddler boy because of the abundance of transportation exhibits. He is obsessed with anything that moves right now, so it was perfect!

The dome from the back where we parked

Parking in Chicago is always pricey. We looked online prior to our visit to try to find safe, affordable place to park. The MSI is located in Hyde Park, a southern area of Chicago right off Lake Shore Drive. We found that if we turned onto Science Drive instead of 57th Avenue from Lake Shore, we had access to outside parking for $10/day or $1.75/hour vs. the $20/day in the parking garage. It also meant we had to brave the cold and the strong breeze for the five minute walk around to the front of the museum. I guess everyone can make their choice, for us it was worth saving $10 and taking a walk.

Nothing runs like a Deere!

We arrived right as the museum opened which turned out to be a wonderful decision. I was worried about ticket lines similar to those at other downtown Chicago museums and attractions, but there were a good amount of ticket windows along with automatic ticket kiosks that were easy to navigate. There are many ticket options to include “experiences” along with the general museum admission. The Omnimax theater is a giant IMAX theater in the museum that costs extra, and the one experience we would have wanted to do without a two-year-old was the guided tour of the submarine, but maybe next time.

The boys in their tractor
The first exhibit we explored was a farm exhibit. There were two real John Deere tractors with HUGE tires! The combine had an open side that allowed us to see inside and learn how it works to harvest corn. We could climb up to the cabin and drive it while a movie of the view from the combine in a corn field played on a screen in front. Landon totally thought he was driving a combine in a field!
Landon the combine driver!
Second trip to the tractor section…
Magnetic crane 

Next to the farm exhibit was a fun play area for younger kids. It involved water play, balls and tubes, and a magnetic construction crane. There was also a fun physics experiment that Landon did several times where he rolled a toy dump truck down several ramps with different surfaces to see which went fastest. I think he liked the bumpiest one the best, even though it ended up being the slowest.

The middle of the sub

When we set off in the museum, we were trying to get to the U-505 Submarine first, and got caught at the other exhibits along the way. There was a really neat set up telling the whole story of how the American ships caught this submarine off the coast of Africa. They wanted to capture the submarine to study it and figure out how to build submarines of their own, so they had to be stealthy and not blow it completely out of the water. It was a big chase and a U.S. ship fired depth charges that forced it to the surface. The Germans opened up a gate inside the sub that flooded it with sea water, and set explosives up throughout the ship to blow it up as well. The Germans really didn’t want the Americans to get their cool technology! The Germans then abandoned ship and were picked up by the American warships in the area. Full of water, the sub was towed to Bermuda for repairs. They studied it to figure out the technology, and then brought it to this museum in 1953 as a permanent exhibit. 

I couldn’t even fit the whole thing in the picture!

This visit, we just walked around the outside of it. I chased Landon through the exhibit at a speed faster than I would have liked, while Austin followed behind getting the fuller picture and bringing along the stroller. The first view of the sub was from a balcony at the same level as the top of the boat. I was surprised by how large it was! I was under the impression that the German U-boats were small, but this was a huge boat!

The best picture of Landon and the back of the sub

It was fairly miraculous that the United States was able to capture a working submarine and study it to figure out how it works. Alongside the sub on the bottom level, they had exhibits with some of the artifacts found on the sub when they captured it, some exhibits recreating life on a sub (with portholes and stuff to crawl through) and other cool stuff. There was this extremely long metal pipe that was one of the periscopes for the submarine. They were removed from the sub to be studied for their optics, and then when they moved the submarine to its current location, they could not find the periscopes to send with it. In the 1990’s, the periscope of the sub was discovered at a Naval storage facility in San Diego and reunited at the museum. There are guided tours of the inside of the submarine that would be amazing to go on with older children.

Next up, we went to the space area. Growing up in a small town and not having museums close by to enjoy, I was shocked that there were space capsules and moon landers that had actually flown missions to space in the museum! Actual pieces of history instead of replicas! Awesome! I think the thing that surprised me the most is how dinky the space capsule that took one of the first Americans into space was. I do not think anyone in their right mind would agree to sit in that thing and be shot up into the upper atmosphere. 

Tiny space capsule… I don’t think Austin would fit!
Landon really liked seeing the moon lander and space capsule. We got a few science books at the library about the moon, and one about transportation that had space transport in it so he was excited to see the real thing. There were also fun artifacts from those first trips into space, including a bowel cleansing kit, space food, and comfy pajamas for the astronauts. I know many people dream of going up into space, but the appeal really is not there for me.  

Moon Lander- also not the most substantial piece of equipment
Some examples of the first bikes… without pedals. Just sit and push with your legs on the ground

It was getting on towards lunch time so we went up to the museum’s main floor to check out the train exhibit before lunch. Landon is at a weird transition time where he naps about every other day, so I wanted to hit the train exhibit before lunch/nap. The main floor of the museum is awe-inspiring with a beautiful dome in the center and exhibits going off down the halls in every direction. This is a shot of the “Science Storms” exhibit that focused on the science found in nature.

Science storms exhibit with a tornado

What immediately caught our eye in the train exhibit was the steam engine right off the bat! There were signs showing how a steam engine worked, and then a stair case to go up on top to see exactly what the fireman did to keep the engine moving- shoveling coal into the box all day!

Boys and the model train

One of the coolest things I learned is how steam engines work with the pistons and the hot steam and cooler air. I came away from the whole museum in awe of what inventors and scientists have invented and discovered in the last 150 years. It is incredible to think about the changes that have come in the modern world for everyone to enjoy. I also learned that I have a hard time learning and retaining mechanical things. I am grateful for those with that type of mind, I will stick to my health profession.
Model Chicago and Willis Tower
Right next to the big steam engine was this HUGE model train. It started with the city of Chicago, went through farmland, mountains and ended in the coastal city of Seattle. There were placards telling about all different types of cargo and different types of trains. There were lots of trains going around the tracks, and other moving parts like a cargo ship loader, logging truck cutting down a tree, etc. Landon of course was very fond of this train and wanted to see it from every angle, and then just stare at it. Austin put him up in his shoulders so he could see if from a better view, since the whole exhibit was at about adult waist height. 

Admiring the airplanes

After a yummy lunch from the downstairs food court (which was surprisingly inexpensive and had many different offerings), we tackled the balcony section of the museum, starting with the airplanes. Landon had a library book this week that named tons of different planes, and he is a huge fan of the Disney movie Planes, so he was all about those airplanes!

United furnished the museum with a grounded 727 jet. One wing was cut off and it was mounted to the side of the balcony, so kids could go explore the inside. I learned how a jet engine works while babysitting the stroller. Austin took over chase the toddler duty as Landon explored the plane. I looked at all of the placards and they still had not emerged, so I went in to see what the deal was. Turns out, Landon had made himself comfortable in one of the passenger seats and thought he was going on an airplane! He said he found mommy’s seat and daddy’s seat too. It took some doing to move him along to other areas of the museum.

He found his seat!

Going to a museum with an active toddler is really fun because you get to see all the exhibits in the whole place. He walked through everything at such a fast pace that we were able to see every exhibit, albeit only in passing. Well, after walking through the really cool Science Storms exhibit (more time needs to be spent there), Landon declared that he wanted to visit the tractors again. So we did. Then he wanted to go on this trolley car by the trains, so we did.


The last exhibit we hit was the Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze. It is ticketed, but free. I thought Landon would think it was fun, and I was right! It was a really confusing maze due to the angle of the mirrors, and we got turned around and started heading back towards the entrance. Once we realized it, Landon was already out of the maze and I had to turn him around to get him back in. I told him to go back towards daddy, and he saw daddy in the mirror! So he started running as fast as he could and ran straight into a mirror and bounced off onto the ground. He was shocked, scared, and I’m sure his head hurt, so he started crying. I picked him up and he was better in no time, but a museum employee in the maze came over to make sure everything was OK. There were lots of people stuck in the maze, but eventually we found our way out, just in time to get back to the car before our parking expired.

See how confusing it is?

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