Nestled in the Bridgeport Arts Center next to the Chicago River, the Chicago Maritime Museum is a dynamic newcomer to Chicago’s community of museums.
Designed by leading Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, the museum interprets Chicago’s unique past in ways that delight and inspire its growing rolls of visitors.
Not so long ago, water was the highway of the world.
For thousands of years – and well into the 19th Century -- movement on land was slow, arduous, often perilous. People explored and thrived largely by navigating waterways.
This fact made the birth of Chicago inevitable.
In northern Illinois, two great watersheds come within reach of each other. Here, just a few miles separate the Great Lakes, with their links to the broad Atlantic, from inland rivers feeding the mighty Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico.
Early explorers realized that in this place two worlds would come together…that an entire continent would pivot on the small patch of ground between them.
That patch of ground: Chicago.
Our waterways attracted uncounted adventurers, farmers, sailors and workers from around the world.
Together, they created the rich mosaic we call Chicago.
Together, they became us.
We must tell the story of Chicago’s growth, so the residents of our great city can preserve what makes their community unique.
A community’s spirit endures only when actively transmitted to the next generation. The Chicago Maritime Museum is here to make our past accessible – and powerful – in the future we all share.
Among our story's colorful cast of characters:
Jacques Marquette…the area’s first European explorer in 1673...first to recognize its potential
Upton Sinclair…whose book The Jungle outraged the nation over butchered carcasses floating in “Bubbly Creek” (now the site of our museum!)
Daniel Burnham…whose plan for Chicago saved the lakefront for the benefit of all.
"The Fox"…a shadowy 1970s figure whose secret exploits exposed industrial polluters
Ralph Freese…a craft canoe-builder and reenactor of Marquette’s explorations
Visitors to the Chicago Maritime Museum learn a new pride in their city -- and feel deeper kinship with fellow Chicagoans who share the same history.
They discover how our waterways shaped not just our city (and the nation and world beyond) but the optimism, inventiveness, and audacity of its inhabitants.
And in learning how our forebears prized and used our area’s resources, they gain a dawning sense of their own responsibility for our city’s future.
The Chicago Maritime Museum enlightens people about how Chicago’s past shaped the city we experience every day…and reminds them how today’s decisions will influence its future.
It’s the kind of institution our city needs more of.
It’s also the kind of institution that requires charitable support to achieve its potential.
Like no other museum, the Chicago Maritime Museum captures, conveys and sustains our city’s origins.
By showing how Chicago found its soul and gained its place in the world, we make the past an accessible and powerful force in the future we all share.