The Information Highway, 1950s Style

You are visiting the latest incarnation of the Illinois State Museum on the information superhighway, but the ISM hit the road with an earlier technology. The "Museumobile" traveled the highways of Illinois for 22 years beginning in 1949.

In 1946, Dr. Thorne Deuel, then the director of the ISM, announced to the Museum Board that the Museum had prepared a special traveling display to be shown at 11 county fairs. He added that he hoped to expand the concept into a regular traveling exhibit, a "mobile museum" housed in a covered truck or bus to visit rural communities throughout the year. In the fall of 1947 the General Body Company of Chicago was contracted to construct a large, custom-designed van. The unit was delivered to the Museum in September of 1948.

photo of ribbon-cutting During just over two months, Museum staff installed 21 exhibits covering a cross-section of topics shown in the Museum itself. The Museumobile was dedicated in December of 1948. Frank G. Thompson, director of the Department of Registration and Education, cut the ribbon as Dr. Thorne Deuel and V.Y.Dallman, (acting Chairman of the Museum Board of Advisors) looked on.

photo of first museumobile The first fully self-contained traveling museum in the country became a reality and the Museumobile began traveling the state in 1949. The idea for this first display was to present a sampling from each department of the Museum. These exhibits lined the two sides of the bus and were viewed from a central aisle.

photo of museumobile opening tourThe Museumobile was very successful. The exhibit was booked in rural schools on weekdays and in nearby public areas on weekends and holidays. In summer it visited state parks, festivals, and county fairs.

photo of opposums By the summer of 1950 the Museumobile has visited nearly every county in Illinois and was returned to Springfield to receive 22 new exhibits. Several more new exhibits were created during later years. With increased demand for the service, the original van eventually wore out.


photo of diorama A new, larger Museumobile was put into service in 1966. Unlike the first van, which depended on a 150-foot extension cord for electricity, the new unit was equipped with a 110-volt generator and its own heating and cooling system. Twenty-five new displays were constructed. They illustrated how humans have used local resources throughout the past and included this diorama of prehistoric farming in Illinois.

photo of museumobile By the end of the 1960s it became clear that no less than three Museumobile units would now be required to reach most of the elementary and secondary school students once during their 12 years in school. Also, a new museum building had been constructed, and this new facility was visited by five times as many visitors as could be reached by Museumobile. So after 22 years, the Museumobile was retired from service on June 30, 1971.


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