Mechanics’ Institute of Chicago

City: Chicago

County: Cook

State: Illinois

A first attempt to found a Mechanics’ Institute in Chicago for the improvement and education of mechanics and apprentices was made in 1837, but the institution was more firmly established when it was reorganized in February 1842. The Mechanics’ Institute of Chicago was incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly the following year, with Charles M. Grey, Alson S. Sherman, Elijah Smith, and Ira Miltimore as incorporators. Miltimore also served as the first president. According to the organization’s constitution, its goal was “to diffuse knowledge and information throughout the mechanical classes" through lectures on mechanical and scientific subjects, the creation of a library and museum, the education of the children of mechanics, and annual fairs. The institution proposed to accept regular, honorary, and corresponding members, who were required to be of good moral character. Prospective members of the Mechanics’ Institute were to be proposed and voted on by current members. By early in 1843, the organization claimed two hundred members and held weekly meetings, as well as debates and lectures. Meetings were initially held in a hall in the Saloon Building on the corner of Lake and Clark streets. The Prairie Farmer served as the official publication of the Mechanics’ Institute, with member John Gage editing the mechanical content of the journal. In order to establish their planned library for members, the Mechanics’ Institute solicited the donation of works on science, history, and mechanical topics, and also raised funds by subscription. A night school was added to the organization’s programming in 1850. The General Assembly authorized the institution in 1853 to create a subscription capital stock of $100,000, allowing them to increase the stock over time to a maximum of $500,000. About 1857 the Mechanics’ Institute relocated to a larger space at the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago at the corner of Washington and Clark streets, but the organization suffered financially due to the Panic of 1857, and after a bankruptcy moved to a smaller space and focused on their circulating library, with the library and fixtures themselves sold in 1861 to cover debts.

A. T. Andreas, History of Chicago (Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1884), 1:518-21; A. T. Andreas, History of Chicago (Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1885), 2:512; Prairie Farmer 3 (January 1843), 19, 21-22; “An Act to Incorporate the Mechanics’ Institute in the City of Chicago,” 2 January 1843, Laws of Illinois (1843), 163; “An Act to Amend an Act Entitled ‘An Act to Incorporate the Mechanics’ Institute, in the City of Chicago,’ approved January 2d, A.D. 1843,” 10 February 1853, Private Laws of Illinois (1853), 411-12.