90 Years of Stellar Connections


The Adler Planetarium, America's first planetarium, celebrates its 90th anniversary on May 12, 2020. To commemorate, we look back on nine decades of programs and initiatives that have brought our visitors and communities together under the sky we all share. Major support for Adler's digital collections provided by Steve & Amy Louis.

Max Adler, Philip Fox, and a third man outside the Adler PlanetariumAdler Planetarium

Planetarium on a Mission

After learning about the Zeiss planetarium projector, businessman and philanthropist Max Adler (middle) proposed building the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere on Chicago’s Northerly Island. In his presentation address, Max Adler remarked that “under the heavens everything is interrelated, even as each of us to the other.” The world has changed dramatically since then, but to this day the Planetarium remains faithful to the mission of connecting people to the Universe and each other under the sky we all share.

Sky Theater with Zeiss projector and a seated audienceAdler Planetarium

The Machine that Started it All

The Adler’s original Zeiss Mk II projector was the first machine of its kind to operate before the public in the Western hemisphere. A scientific and technological marvel on its own, it brought together millions of people under the Planetarium’s dome. Newer technologies have long replaced it, but our sky shows and dome presentations still serve the same purpose: to share the wonders of the universe with whoever comes into the Adler’s theaters

Adler Planetarium Project Moonwatch team observingAdler Planetarium

Space-Racing Together

As the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union ramped up, so did the public’s interest in space science. Adler attendance skyrocketed in the 1950s, and the Planetarium opened its doors to Project Moonwatch. Project Moonwatch was a Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory program where a large number of volunteers searched the skies for artificial satellites. In the photo, young men coordinate their efforts to look for satellites in the sky above Chicago from the roof of the Planetarium. The world was divided, but science was bringing people together nevertheless.

Three museum visitors watch a man and a woman working in the Optical ShopAdler Planetarium

Hands on Astronomy

In the 1960s, American interest in the space race continued, inspiring many amateur astronomers to join the long-existing amateur telescope movement. Opened in 1952, the Adler’s optical shop became a living exhibit in 1960 where visitors could learn how to grind and polish their own telescope mirrors. The optical shop remained a popular attraction until its closure in 1999. Many other programs have since continued to engage visitors of all ages and backgrounds with hands-on science.

Three students at Astro-Science WorkshopAdler Planetarium

An Invitation to Science

Three participants of the Adler’s 1967-1968 Astro-Science Workshop (ASW) discuss their work. ASW began more than 50 years ago during the space race and the Apollo program. Designed to encourage high school students in the Chicago area to pursue careers in science, ASW is the longest-running program hosted by the Planetarium, counting numerous scientists, engineers, business leaders and a former NASA astronaut as alumni.

Group of people at lunar eclipse viewing event, with Adler Planetarium in the backgroundAdler Planetarium

Everybody Look Up!

This photograph was taken outside the Adler Planetarium during a public event to observe the lunar eclipse of July 16, 1981. Planetariums are often regarded as substitutes for the real sky, whose wonders tend to get lost in the light-polluted environment of urban areas. But there is always something up there to explore, and the Adler has long been a place where everyone is invited to look up, indoors as well as outside.

Group of people inside Doane Observatory at lunar eclipse viewing event.Adler Planetarium

The Observatory and the City

In 1977, the Adler's Doane Observatory opened featuring a telescope with mirrors crafted in the Planetarium's own mirror-making lab. This telescope was replaced in 1987 with a larger one made by DFM Engineering, Inc. For more than 40 years the Observatory, which recently received a new, even-larger telescope, has given thousands of viewers in Chicago the chance to look deeper into the cosmos.

Program participants in the Cyberspace ClassroomAdler Planetarium

Encounters in CyberSpace

In the mid-1990s, the Adler embarked on an ambitious exhibit project that resulted in the opening of the CyberSpace gallery in 2001. Boasting fiber-optic Internet hookups, high-resolution TV screens, and virtual reality booths, CyberSpace promised to connect the Planetarium and its visitors with the whole world while keeping up-to-date with the constant influx of new scientific information. While Cyberspace was replaced with even more exciting experiences for our guests, the Adler has never ceased to keep pace with the latest technologies and to explore their potential to connect people with and around space science, at the Planetarium and beyond.

Adler Planetarium EclipseFest 2017Adler Planetarium

The Year of the Eclipse

2017 was the Adler’s Year of the Eclipse! Featuring exhibits and public programming on eclipses throughout the year, the highlight was Chicago’s Eclipse Fest. Tens of thousands visited the Adler and donned solar viewing glasses to check out the eclipse on August 21, 2017. This amazing event reminded us that we are all connected under the same sky.

Scopes in the City ProgrammingAdler Planetarium

Looking Up From Your Neighborhood

Even if you cannot come to the Planetarium, the Planetarium will come to you! In this photograph an Adler staff member shares the joy of looking through a telescope with three young viewers, in the context of the 'Scopes in the City program. Since 2014 more than 140 'Scopes in the City events have thrilled almost 11,000 people with telescope views of our daytime and nighttime sky. This program has been taking telescopes to Chicago neighborhoods, inviting anyone walking by to look up and chat about what is on view.

Collections' Viewing at the Members Night Preview of "Chicago's Night Sky"Adler Planetarium

Blast From the Past

An Adler curator explores a celestial globe from 19th-century China with two attentive visitors during a collections show-and-tell event. Since its inception, the Adler has been home to a world-class collection of historical scientific instruments and rare books. These items connect us with peoples of ages past from all over the world, illustrating their efforts to explore and understand the Universe, and above all, reminding us that looking up is an integral part of human experience.

A Night in the AfroFuture 2.0Adler Planetarium

Rocking the Dome

Once the abode of a conspicuous Zeiss Mk II machine, now equipped with an unobtrusive set of in-built projectors, the Adler's main dome here serves as a cosmic dance floor for the event "Adler After Dark: A Night in the Afro-Future 2.0" on February 20, 2020. The Planetarium constantly reinvents itself in order to become ever more appealing to an audience as broad and diverse as possible, while upholding its foundational mission of connecting people to the Universe and to each other.

Credits: Story

Thank you to the staff of the Adler Planetarium for their assistance in creating these images of our collection and this exhibition. Check out more amazing 90th anniversary programming here: https://www.adlerplanetarium.org/explore/90th-anniversary/

Major support for Adler's digital collections provided by Steve & Amy Louis.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.