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The Chicago Academy of Sciences
Nature Bulletin No. 547-A    De3cember 7, 1974
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The Chicago Academy of Sciences is 117 years old this year. Chicago itself is not much older. It is significant of the rapid growth of our country, that only 100 years ago Chicago was a sprawling pioneer community. In fact, when the Academy was founded in 1857, it was the first scientific institution on the scene and one of the first museums in the West. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington had been founded only eleven years earlier and Robert Kennicott, first director of the Chicago Academy, was a young protégé of Smithsonian's director, the great Spencer Fullerton Baird.

Kennicott! There's magic in the name. The boy who, Indian-like, under cover of a horse skin, stalked prairie chicken around Chicago, later explored Arctic North America and led the Overland Telegraph Expedition to Russian Alaska. That project to link Europe to North America by wire across Bering Strait, was abandoned after the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable and the only tangible results of the expedition were its maps and scientific data recorded by Kennicott. But they influenced our government to purchase Alaska.

Early sites of the Academy were twice destroyed by fire, the last time by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The present building in Lincoln Park, on Clark Street near the Zoo, was built in 1893 at a cost of $100,000.

Founded for the "increase and diffusion of scientific knowledge, " the Academy has faithfully pursued its goal. But science has its vogues, even as the world of fashion. In 1857 science was "acquisitive": the naturalist, such as Kennicott, was feverishly absorbed with collecting and classifying new animals and plants. In the early Academy Transactions such work was published and broadcast to the scientific world. So, too, in its present publications, the Academy ranges through the whole wide field of science to continue the "increase and diffusion of knowledge. .

In an old institution like this, you may read history from the library shelves and collections -- human history as well as history of the natural sciences. Here, for instance, is a copy of Dana's System of Mineralogy" published in 1868; here a collection of plants "west of the 100th Meridian, " made in 1868 by Palmer and Wolf.

Now the vogue is changing and the Academy, while continuing research, feels most strongly its responsibility to diffuse knowledge to the public. At a time when science is gaining emphasis in most schools, it would like to replace the present striving for mediocrity among students with a respect for scholarly achievement.

The role of the Academy's museum has always been that of interpretation. Giant habitat groups tell the stories of dune and marsh, forest and prairie and habitats found in other parts of the world. Amateur groups have been organized to study astronomy, geology, and zoology in cooperation with the Academy, and the museum has numerous short movies on birds, insects, plants, geology and other subjects, evening credit courses are also offered to teachers.

Chicago and suburban schools are invited to make daily visits to view these movies and enjoy a guided tour of the exhibits. The aim is to give youngsters a capsule impression of nature in the Chicago region and arouse their interest in natural history in the Chicago region and world.

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