For the backstory on Chicago, head to Chicago History Museum. The museum’s collection of more than 23 million objects, images and documents records the evolution of Chicago from fur trading outpost to modern metropolis.

Unique Chicago photographs

Currently on view at the museum are many never-before-seen works by world-renowned street photographer Vivian Maier in the exhibition “Vivian Maier: In Color.”

Vivian Maier in camera shop, circa 1955
Credit: Chicago History Museum, © The Estate of Vivian Maier

“The Chicago History Museum is committed to sharing Chicago stories, and Vivian Maier’s work represents her private contributions to the documentation and representation of culture found within city life,” said Charles E. Bethea, Andrew W. Mellon director of collections and curatorial affairs. “Maier’s photography brings a glimpse of Chicago and its residents to life between the 1950s to the 1970s, allowing present day visitors the opportunity to reflect on the striking parallels it has to today’s society.”

Maier worked as a nanny to several Chicago families and took extensive photos, documenting intimate moments of the city and its people.

“Vivian Maier: In Color” illuminates Maier’s unique portfolio. While her focus of attention varied, she approached all of her work with unwavering confidence, revealing parallels, intersections and tensions.

Sleeping man in trench coat, circa 1960 by Vivian Maier
Credit: Chicago History Museum, © The Estate of Vivian Maier

After her death in 2009, Maier’s prolific photographs previously discovered in her abandoned storage locker were first displayed for the public. Maier rose to posthumous international acclaim for her photography that expertly documented the people, landscapes, light and development of New York, her hometown, and Chicago where she settled, with remarkable attention to detail.

Portrait of a woman wearing pearl earrings and necklace, circa 1958, by Vivian Maier
Credit: Chicago History Museum, © The Estate of Vivian Maier

In 2020, the Chicago History Museum announced the acquisition of nearly 1,800 Vivian Maier color slides, negatives and transparencies. The collection consists primarily of color slides and transparencies depicting people and scenes in Chicago from the 1950s–1970s.

Stories of Chicago

With more than 50,000 costumes and textiles dating from the 18th century to the present, Chicago History Museum’s world-renowned Costume and Textiles collection is noted for both its size and the quality of its holdings.

Costume materials include work by distinguished designers. Also in the collection is the work of dressmakers, milliners, retailers and manufacturers who made Chicago their home. Collection materials include clothing worn by former presidents and first ladies, sports stars, celebrities and other luminaries, as well as by everyday Chicagoans.

The museum’s permanent exhibition “Chicago: Crossroads of America” interprets Chicago as a dynamic crossroads of commerce, industry and culture that shaped modern America. Organized thematically, the exhibition presents a rich array of stories, artifacts, documents, design elements, media presentations and interactive elements that trace the history of Chicago.

“Chicago: Crossroads of America” exhibition
Credit: Chicago History Museum

This exhibition opens with Chicago’s first ‘L’ car. Built in 1892, the vehicle transported people to the World’s Columbian Exposition. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the 1890s, ‘L’ Car No. 1 immerses visitors in the past and inspires them to explore the surrounding galleries. Some of those galleries are City in Crisis, Second to None and My Kind of Town.