The Museum Chicagoans Love : Exhibits Include Nazi Submarine, Apollo VIII Capsule

Times Staff Writer

The Nazi submarine U-505, the only enemy man-of-war captured in battle since the War of 1812, is fully restored and ready to sail. But it hasn’t gone anywhere since it went on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry here in 1954.

The sub is one of thousands of fascinating exhibits at the museum,including the Apollo VIII capsule, the first spaceship to orbit the moon; a fully operative underground coal mine; a 16-foot-high pulsating replica of a human heart, and a miniature circus with 22,000 hand-carved, animated figures.

Chicagoans have had a love affair with the museum ever since it opened in the summer of 1933. Located in Jackson Park on the shores of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s South Side, it’s a favorite place for out-of-towners, students and families, attracting 4 million visitors a year.

The “hands-on” museum is the nation’s oldest, largest, most popular museum of its kind. A visitor can spend a week there--lifting levers, turning cranks and pushing buttons--and not begin to see it all. Housed in the Columbian Exposition’s Fine Arts Building, the only remaining major structure still standing from Chicago’s World Fair of 1893, the museum contains 75 major exhibition halls and occupies more than 14 acres.


The 19th-Century sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens called the Fine Arts Building “the most outstanding example of classical architecture since the Parthenon.”

It was June 4, 1944, that U-505 was captured on the West African coast by a U.S. task force of six ships. Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, aboard the escort aircraft carrier, Guadalcanal, led the capture. Other ships taking part were the destroyer escorts Pillsbury, Pope, Flaherty, Chatelain and Jenks.

U-505 was one of the most valued prizes of World War II because it enabled the United States to break the German code. The sub was towed 1,700 miles to Bermuda, where its crew of 50 men (one was killed in the capture) were interned until the end of the war. Meanwhile, the 3,000 sailors in the task force were sworn to secrecy to prevent the Germans from learning the code had been broken. Word of the sub’s capture was not revealed until after the war.

In 1954 the German submarine was towed 3,000 miles from Portsmouth, N.H., to Chicago. Then it was brought ashore onto the museum grounds where Adm. William F. Halsey dedicated the submarine to the memory of all Americans who perished at sea during World War II.


Today visitors to the Museum of Science and Industry can walk through the Nazi sub, peer through its periscope and view U.S. Navy footage of its capture.

Visitors may also descend into the depths of the coal mine (in the museum’s basement) on a slow-moving mine elevator.

And circus fans can appreciate the long-time miniature and animated circus exhibit, complete with ringmaster and sound effects. The Midway features Jolly Marge, a 723-pound fat lady; Tiny, the smallest man on Earth, and Slim Jim Cork, the slimmest man alive. A circus film projected on a 30-foot-high vertical screen gives a viewer the feeling of walking the high wires, of being inside the cage with the lion tamer.

The Nobel Hall of Science honors 148 American scientists who received the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry and medicine. Other halls are dedicated to the history of newspapers in America, the Postal Service and postage stamps, Main Street, U.S.A., during the turn-of-the-century, featuring cobblestone streets, and cars and stores from the period.

Within the museum is a major collection of automobiles and railroad locomotives, including Craig Breedlove’s jet-powered Spirit of America, the first car to go faster than 500 m.p.h., and “Old 999,” the first railroad locomotive to exceed 100 m.p.h.

There are special exhibits, such as Special Effects From Movies and TV, on loan from the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles. Featured are King Kong’s head and a control panel to manipulate it, a 25-foot mechanical shark from “Jaws,” and the nose from “Roxanne.”

Recent special exhibits have included “Soviet Women in All Aspects of U.S.S.R. Life,” “Three Centuries of French Posters,” “Jewish Life in America: Fulfilling the American Dream.”