The Adler Planetarium is a public museum and planetarium located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. It was the first planetarium in the United States (and also in Western Hemisphere) and is one of the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1930 through a donation from Max Adler (1866-1952), a Chicago businessman and philanthropist who was interested in promoting science education and was opened to the public on May 12, 1930.

May 12 story of what happened this day in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history.

Adler Planetarium

In 1913, the German engineer Oskar von Miller (1855-1934) from the Deutsches Museum commissioned Carl Zeiss Works (a German manufacturer of optical systems and optoelectronics, founded in Jena, Germany in 1846 by optician Carl Zeiss) to create a mechanism capable of projecting celestial bodies onto a dome. Walther Bauersfeld successfully designed this mechanism, which later became known as a planetarium when it made its debut in 1923. Its popularity grew rapidly, and by 1929, there were fifteen planetariums in Germany, two in Italy, one in Russia, and one in Austria.

Meanwhile, Max Adler, a retired executive from Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Chicago, had shifted his focus to philanthropic endeavors, particularly supporting the musical and Jewish communities. Inspired by a friend’s description of a Munich planetarium, Adler recognized the potential of having a planetarium in the emerging Museum Campus in Chicago. He visited the Munich planetarium accompanied by his cousin, architect Ernest Grunsfeld Jr., whom Adler commissioned to design the Chicago structure.

During his visit, Adler also learned about a sale of astronomical instruments and antiques by W. M. Mensing in Amsterdam. He made the purchase the following year, establishing the foundation for the Astronomical Museum. In 1928, Adler pledged $500,000 for the construction of the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.

Originally, the planetarium was intended to be part of the Museum of Science and Industry project led by Adler’s brother-in-law, Julius Rosenwald. However, due to delays and renovation challenges with the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Adler had to seek an alternative location. The South Park Commissioners, which later became the Chicago Park District, had just completed Northerly Island as part of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, and Adler decided it would be a suitable site.

The Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum opened its doors on May 12, 1930, coinciding with Adler’s birthday. The design by Ernest Grunsfeld Jr. was highly acclaimed, receiving a gold medal from the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Later that year, the planetarium hosted the 44th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Thus, the Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum became a prominent institution in Chicago, providing visitors with the opportunity to explore the wonders of the universe through its planetarium technology and extensive astronomical collection.

Adler Planetarium was designed to be a public space where people could learn about astronomy and space science through interactive exhibits and presentations.

The planetarium features a wide range of exhibits and displays, including a collection of historic telescopes, interactive displays that explain the science of astronomy and space exploration, and a planetarium theater that can display immersive shows about the night sky and the universe.

Adler Planetarium, the first planetarium in the United States
Opened on May 12, 1930, the Adler Planetarium is the first planetarium in the United States. Image source: Deposit Photos

One of the most famous exhibits at the Adler Planetarium is the Gemini 12 space capsule, flown by astronauts James Lovell and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on their 1966 mission. The planetarium also has a telescope that visitors can use to observe the night sky, weather permitting.

The Adler Planetarium is home to a number of research programs, including studies on the history of astronomy and the search for extraterrestrial life. It also hosts a variety of public programs and events, including lectures, workshops, and stargazing parties.

Gemini 12 capsule [Adler Planetarium]
Gemini 12 capsule from the 10th and final mission of NASA’s Project Gemini, flown by Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin in 1966 is one of the most famous exhibits at the Adler Planetarium. Photo by Victor Grigas – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Adler Planetarium has become a popular destination for visitors of all ages who are interested in astronomy and space science. It has played an important role in promoting science education and inspiring the next generation of scientists and space explorers.


M. Özgür Nevres

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