Decorative and Industrial Arts

The Museum’s outstanding collection of Decorative and Industrial Arts contains over 40,000 objects related to Chicago and American history.

Materials include furniture, metalwork, ceramics, glass, agricultural and military equipment, musical instruments, toys, vehicles, and numerous other products, tools, and household and industrial objects. Special areas of strength include Chicago-made furniture, ceramics, glass, and metalwork. Of particular interest are pieces by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, The Kalo Shop, Gates Potteries, Tobey Furniture, and the New Bauhaus.

Chicago’s industrial heritage is well represented by the Pioneer locomotive, meatpacking equipment, and a wide range of products made by American Flyer, Bell & Howell, Playskool, Schwinn, Sunbeam, Western Electric, and many other Chicago companies. In addition, the collection holds a rich array of artifacts from Fort Dearborn, the 1871 Fire, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the 193334 A Century of Progress International Exposition, city politics, and an increasing number of pieces from Chicago neighborhoods and diverse communities.

Highlights of the American History Collection include military and home front materials from the Revolutionary and Civil War periods. Of special note is the John and Jeanne Rowe Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln Collection, which contains many rare items from the 1860 campaign, his presidential carriage, and many materials related to his assassination, including his death bed. The collection also contains important pieces of early American folk art and furniture.

Research Inquiries and Collection Access

Researching Decorative and Industrial Arts

Requests for information about the Museum’s Decorative and Industrial Arts objects may be submitted online using the Object Research Inquiry Form. The Museum’s staff will do its best to respond to your inquiry within two weeks. However, due to the high volume of inquiries – and depending upon the nature of your request – we may occasionally need additional time to respond.

In-person access to Decorative and Industrial Arts materials is available by appointment only

Due to the extensive resources required to handle and retrieve the Decorative and Industrial Arts holdings, access to these materials is limited to researchers who are able to demonstrate that in-person access is required to support substantive research, and that the results of that research will be disseminated widely. To request access, submit an Object Research Inquiry Form. Please also note that not all objects will be available for researcher access due to condition, location, staff availability, and/or other factors. Scheduling an appointment to view available material may require several additional weeks.

Image Requests

Images do not exist for all of the items in the Decorative and Industrial Arts Collection. Requests for new photography may occasionally be accommodated for an additional fee; however, the Museum reserves the right to limit new photography based on an item’s condition, storage location, size, and other factors. For information about obtaining copies or high-quality digital image reproductions of collection materials, see the Rights and Reproductions page. Note that the Museum’s ability to reproduce requested materials may be limited by US copyright law.

Donate to the Collection

The vast majority of the Decorative and Industrial Arts holdings were donated to the Museum. If you would like to donate an artifact to the Museum, please submit the Online Collection Donation Form.

Support the Collection

The Museum requires ongoing resources to maintain its collection of more than 23 million objects and documents. This work includes cataloging, storing, and preserving the collections – and the specialized activity necessary to make this unique resource available for use in exhibitions, publications, public programs, scholarly research, and loans to other institutions. We encourage you to consider making a financial contribution to help support this important work.

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