Science at the University of Chicago:  A History from the Library's Archival Photofiles

The John Crerar Library, The University of Chicago

October 20, 2008 - March 31, 2009

(This exhibit is no longer on display)

Yerkes Observatory


When the University of Chicago was founded in 1892, the original plan for the architectural style at the University was English Gothic. This style was chosen over more contemporary styles at the time in order to convey the university's connection to the traditional European universities, which were founded in the Middle Ages. The layout of the university was initially devised by the architect Henry Ives Cobb, who also designed many of the structures, including the first science buildings. Although other campus buildings more faithfully reproduce designs at Oxford and Cambridge, Cobb chose to rethink the English Gothic style in a new way. With the help of the new science faculty, he created buildings that were both aesthetically pleasing and practical.

Later architects of science buildings on campus have included Gothic aspects in their designs, mixing the style with more contemporary elements.

The University has a history of diversity, educating both male and female students, and students of different races, religions and ethnic backgrounds. However, there were challenges; in the early days of the university, women in the sciences took classes separate from men. Between 1908 and 1946 the Mathematics department alone awarded 51 Ph.D.'s to women out of 270 degrees given in total.


Cobb's Plan for the University

Cobb's Plan for the University (enlarge)


Physics and Geophysics at the University

Mathematics, Computer Science and Astronomy at the University

Chemistry and Biology at the University

Medicine at the University

About the Exhibit

This exhibit draws from the rich collection of University of Chicago photographs available in the Library's online Archival Photofiles Collection and highlights the history of the science department buildings, focusing on their designs and technologies.

This exhibit was created by Jennifer Hart, John Crerar Library, The University of Chicago

Special thanks to Judith Dartt

View a slideshow of selected pictures from the exhibit:

  • Anatomy Lab
  • Atomic Scientists Reunion
  • Computation Lab
  • Close up of Yerkes Telescope
  • Biology Class
  • Henry Hinds Laboratory
  • Bobs Roberts Hospital
  • Floor Plan of Ryerson
  • Botany Pond
  • Architect's Drawing of Eckhart Hall
  • Women's Chemistry Class
  • Physicist Albert Michelson
  • Yerkes Observatory
  • Architect's Drawing of Billings Hospital
  • Eckhart Library

For more information please contact Jennifer Hart, University of Chicago, 773-702-7569, or by e-mail to

The University of Chicago Library

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Phone Numbers

The University of Chicago