April 28, 2015

Be on the forefront with CCC: Welcoming the Chicago Zoological Society


CCC is thrilled to welcome its newest member, the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo. 

“We are very enthusiastic about becoming a member of the Chicago Collections Consortium,” says Carla Owens, Manager of CZS Library Services and Archives. “Your organization is the much needed centralized glue of Chicago institutions that have special collections to share, and we want to be on the forefront with CCC, to assist in building a foundation of technological and institutional expertise that will showcase Chicagoland.”

CZS is one of Illinois’ largest cultural institutions and the 5th largest zoo in the country. Its remarkable history begins with Edith Rockefeller McCormick, daughter of the wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller who was married to agricultural machinery magnate, Harold F. McCormick. In 1919, she donated 83 acres of land with a vision for a zoological park to be near the cities of Riverside and Brookfield. It was to be a unique zoo on the cutting edge of captive care with bar-less exhibits that were more naturalistic, like those she had viewed on her travels in Europe. Her dream was that the zoo would be a teaching laboratory engaged in scientific research that promoted guest education about the psychology of animals. The Chicago Zoological Society was chartered on February 21, 1921 and Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934.

From its selection of prominent Chicago architect Edwin H. Clark who designed the zoo’s physical layout in the early 1920s, to the elegant Art Deco buildings that went up during the 1920s and 1930s, to the institution’s firsts in zoological research, including advances in animal captive management, conservation research, veterinary medicine, animal welfare and exhibit design. CZS has incredible stories to share. It was the first zoo in North America to exhibit a giant panda in 1937, experienced the first okapi birth in a U.S. zoo in 1959, became the first U.S. inland dolphinarium to open in 1961 (to this day, has the longest running dolphin research program in the world), and was the first zoo in the world to successfully perform brain surgery on a gorilla in 1994.

The Brookfield Zoo Library & Archives is primarily a zoological research facility with an extensive archive that begins with the early zoo history from 1919 through the present day. It is accessible to all people— zoo visitors, visiting scholars, volunteers, docents, teachers, school children, CZS Advanced Inquiry Program graduate students and employees— in need of resources and information. The Archives house a variety of materials from its early history including an extensive photograph and slide collection from the construction of the zoo, its opening, and scientific photographic representation of its early animal collections. One of many collection highlights includes photographs of work created through the federal government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) project from 1934-1940. A team of WPA artists was dedicated to creating sculpture, signage, way-finding maps, posters, and ephemera. Many notable artists who are significant to the history of Illinois such as Andrew Rebori, Edgar Miller, Emmanuel Vivano, Ralph Graham, Louise Pflasterer Ross, and others, created artwork that is showcased in the zoo today. In total, CZS has over 250 catalogued archival boxes containing early zoo documentation representing the 80 years of its existence.

Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing a film of Shirley Temple visiting Mei-Mei, CZS’s 2nd panda, in 1938? Check back and learn more about CCC’s newest fascinating member.