The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Established 1925 (1925)
Location 3000 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, Indiana, 46208-4716
Type Children's Museum
Visitor figures 1+ million annually
President (President/CEO) Jeffrey H. Patchen
Website Official website
The museum exterior.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the world's largest children's museum. It is located in the United Northwest Area neighborhood on Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. The museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums. It is 472,900 square feet (43,933.85 m2) with five floors of exhibit halls and receives more than one million visitors annually. Its collection of over 120,000 artifacts and exhibit items are divided into three domains: the American Collection, the Cultural World Collection, and the Natural World Collection. Among the exhibits are a simulated Cretaceous dinosaur habitat, a carousel, and a steam locomotive. Because the museum's targeted audience is children, most exhibits are designed to be interactive allowing children to actively participate.

Founded in 1925 by Mary Stewart Carey with the help of Indianapolis civic leaders and organizations, it is the fourth oldest such institution in the world. The current site became home for the museum in 1946; the current building was constructed in 1976, and has had six major expansions since then. The museum hosts thousands of activities annually, including plays at the Lilly Theater, classes and workshops for school children, traveling exhibits, and fund-raising events. With a 2008 budget of $28.7 million, it has 400 employees and 1500 volunteers. Its financial stability is ensured by a large endowment that was first established in the 1960s and is governed by a board of trustees.



The Children's Museum of Indianapolis was founded in 1925 by Mary Stewart Carey, a wealthy civic patron who owned the Stewart-Carey Glass Company. She was inspired to create the museum after a 1924 visit to the Brooklyn Children's Museum.[1] Carey began a campaign to start a Children's Museum in Indianapolis and enlisted the aid of other local civic leaders and the Progressive Teacher's Association. With their support, the museum opened in a garage complex that belonged to Propylaeums, a local civic club.[2] A board of trustees was established to manage the museum and Carey was elected its first president.[3] The early exhibits were created and donated by school children. Carey sought a larger facility and after two moves, she finally located the museum in her own mansion on Meridian Street in 1926. The same year the first curator, Arthur Carr was hired.[1] Carr arranged Carey's specimens into exhibits and managed the museum. The first permanent exhibits were marine, Japanese, pioneer, archeology, and nature. By the 1930s, a larger staff was hired and Carr became director after Carey's 1938 death. The museum began offering guided tours to school children, organized traveling exhibits that were moved around to area schools, and began hosting events for fund raising.[4]

Museum lobby and atrium

In 1942, Carr retired from the museum and Grace Golden became the new director. Golden sought to further expand the museum and successfully solicited grants from the Indianapolis Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and members of the Lilly family. She also secured several important corporate sponsorships. The new revenue allowed the museum to purchase its own building, a former mansion on North Meridian Street. Golden also began a diversification of the museum's exhibits, rather than relying on local donations. She successfully created partnerships with other museums who loaned exhibits of Native American artifacts in 1947, a gallery of dinosaur skeletons in 1949, the mummy Wenuhotep was given on permanent loan from the University of Chicago in 1959, a nineteenth century log cabin was donated in 1961, and the Hall of Man was added in 1962. Several new permanent exhibits were created during her tenure, focusing on pioneer life, natural science, and ethnography. Golden also established a Junior Docent program, created two weekly television shows for local broadcast, and began a program of interpretive activities.[4]

In 1964 Golden resigned and was succeeded as director by Mildred Compton. Compton remained director until 1982. She began a new business model which included charging entrance fees. She created the first long term financial plans for the museum by establishing an endowment, and began advertising campaigns for donations and to increase attendance. The museum was enhanced to help it earn accreditation from the American Association of Museums by standardizing and cataloging its exhibits and archives and implementing conservation techniques. New permanent exhibits were obtained during Compton's tenure including the Physical Science Gallery in 1967, the Reuben Wells Steam Engine in 1968, and the Model Train Gallery in 1970.[4]

A fund raising drive held in 1973 raised $8.7 million and allowed for the construction of the current museum building. The old museum was demolished and the new one built on its site. Finished in 1976, the new museum had modern conservation and storage facilities, classrooms, the 350 seat Ruth Allison Lilly Theater, and a much larger five-floor exhibit area. New exhibits and attractions were added for the grand opening including a carousel, a simulated cavern, and a mastodon skeleton.[4]

Welcome Center and brachiosaurs, installed in 2009.

Paul Sterling became director in 1982 and continued to pursue a growth policy for the museum. A restaurant and outdoor garden gallery was added in 1983, and in 1984 the Caplan folk art collection of 50,000 items was donated by Frank and Theresa Caplan, nearly doubling the number of items owned by the museum. In 1987 the museum undertook a $14 million expansion with the construction of a welcome center and atrium entrance, a planetarium, and an additional exhibit hall. A grant from Lilly Endowment funded the construction of the Eli Lilly Center for Exploration in 1990.[4]

By 1992, the museum was hosting 4,000 programs and activities annually and had an annual attendance of 835,000 patrons. It employed 165 full-time employees, 227 part-time employees, and 850 volunteers. Revenue in 1992 was $12.4 million.[3]

In 1996 a 310-seat large-format theater called the CineDome was constructed adjacent to the museum. In 2004 the museum added a 950-space parking garage and the CineDome was converted to Dinosphere, which is built within and around the former CineDome. The Welcome Center was expanded again in 2009 increasing the total size of the museum to 472,900 square feet (43,930 m2).[5]


According to a museum report, in 2010, the museum has 400 part and full time employees. Additionally, 1,500 individuals contribute over 67,000 hours or volunteer work annually.[6] In 2008, the institution had revenue of $26.37 million and expenses of $26.369 million, with over half its income being supplied by the museum's endowment.[7] The facility had more than one million visitors in 2008.[8] Field trips from 775 schools brought more than 83,000 students to the museum during 2008.[9]

A board of trustees led by a chairman oversees the museum's endowment. The board elects an Executive Committee from its members who are responsible for overseeing the museum's management. The committee employs a president who oversees daily operations and manages the facilities. In 2008 Lloyd Lyons was chairman of the Executive Committee, and Jeffrey H. Patchen was president.[10]

The museum has five floors of exhibit halls in the main building. There are several smaller structures around the main building including a planetarium, Dinosphere, a theater, and an outdoors garden gallery. In total, the museum has 472,900 square feet (43,933.85 m2) of floor space.[5] The museum has a collection of over 120,000 artifacts, many of which are on display.[11] The collection is divided into three groups; Natural World, Cultural World, and American Collections.[12]

To maintain a regular change in its exhibits, significant emphasis is placed on research and development. Field experts are consulted regularly to assess the exhibits and offer proposals for new ones. The museum employs many experts who are leaders in their field of study.[13] Because of its leadership and innovations, the museum is a world leader in its field.[14] Child and Parents magazine have both ranked the museum as the best children's museum in the United States.[15] The "institution is considered the gold standard of museums for children."[16]

Label using a QRpedia code to direct visitors to the Wikipedia article Broad Ripple Park Carousel.

The museum employs a Wikipedian-in-residence, appointed in August 2011,[17] and uses QRpedia to allow visitors to read Wikipedia articles about objects in the collection, translated into their preferred language.[18] QRpedia codes are located in the All Aboard! exhibit, which directs users to the Reuben Wells steam engine Wikipedia article,[18] and in the Carousel Wishes and Dreams exhibit, which links to the Broad Ripple Park Carousel article.[18]


A mastodon skull exhibit.
The museum encourages children to touch many of their exhibits, such as this one.

The main stairwell of the museum is a giant spiral ramp which allows visitors to access all five levels of the museum by strollers, wheelchairs, and walkers. In 2006, glass artist Dale Chihuly installed a four story glass sculpture inside the central atrium of the giant spiral ramp. The sculpture is called Fireworks of Glass and is accompanied by an exhibit of Chihuly's glass blowing methods.

Lower Level

The National Geographic: Treasures of the Earth exhibit has three areas is located on the Lower Level of museum and was first opened June 11, 2011. One area contains ancient Egyptian artifacts presented in a replica of the tomb of Seti I. Another area has a simulated archeological dig where artifacts about Zhao Zheng, first Emporer of China, was discovered. The third area features artifacts retrieved from a pirate ship wreck.[19]

The lower level also hosts a planetarium, a theater, and a 11,000 pounds (5,000 kg) steam engine designed by Reuben Wells in 1868 to conquer Indiana’s Madison Hill. The engine is attached to a Pennsylvania Railroad caboose that visitors can find in the museum's "All Aboard!" Gallery.[20]

Main Floor

On the main floor/ground level the Museum has the Welcome Center with adult and juvenile Brachiosaur sculptures climbing into the front. These sculptures are physiologically accurate to current paleontological knowledge and were created by Gary Staab and painted by Brian Cooley who created the sauropod sculptures which are crashing out of the Dinosphere.[21][22] Outside the museum on this level is the Seven Wonders of the World garden, a green rain garden, parking garage, and the oversize parking lot to accommodate large parties of visitors such as schools on field trips.

A focal point of the ground level of the museum is North America's largest water clock, created by French physicist and artist Bernard Gitton. The main floor contains The Children's Museum toy store and food court. The volunteer center, concierge desk and birthday party rooms are also on this level.

Second Floor

The museum also contains 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) branch of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library called the InfoZone which was moved to the second floor outside of the skywalk which links the parking garage to the main building. The InfoZone moved to its present home in the new welcome center in 2009.

The second level hosts many of the museum's temporary exhibits. The only semi-permanent exhibit on the level is the "Take Me There" gallery. The "Take Me There" exhibit has its content changed periodically with a different culture represented in the space every two to three years. In 2009 the exhibit featured the culture of modern-day Egypt and is called "Take Me There: Egypt." Also on this floor are miniature insets depicting various rooms and their decorations. The three changeable spaces are known as Special Exhibit Galleries and they have short run exhibits that rotate.

Third Floor

The third level features "The Power of Children: Making a Difference", a permanent exhibit featuring the stories of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White and the impact these children made on the world. The purpose of the Power of Children is to create a supportive environment where people can examine and discuss issues related to prejudice and discrimination and seek solutions to the problems. Historically accurate immersive environments are recreated to reflect the place where each of the children spent their lives. First-person interpreters, live theater and artifacts are designed to facilitate the public understanding of the lives of Frank, Bridges and White. The gallery has sounds, dramatic lighting, quotations, interactives and moving images to draw visitors into the exhibit.

A second permanent exhibit located on the third floor is "Story Avenue". Visitors can walk through a simulated African American community with life size mannequins that talk when visitors pass. The exhibit focuses on the oral story-telling traditions of African Americans. Next to "Story Avenue" is the preschool play area called "Playscape". "Playscape" is a gallery designed for children 5 years and younger. It includes a large raised sandbox area for children to play in, a raised water table where kids can play with water toys, a construction site and multiple other interactive areas for small children. "Playscape" has an area designated for very small children 2 and younger called "Babyscape". It also houses a multipurpose room which includes an area for nursing mothers combined with a reading room complete with couches.

Fourth Floor

Located at the top of the ramp on the fourth floor is the Ball Dollhouse. One of the museum's most popular exhibits is an indoor carousel in the Carousel Wishes and Dreams gallery on the fourth floor. The carousel was originally built for an amusement park (now Broad Ripple Park) in 1917 and was restored and reinstalled in this museum in 1973. It is the largest of the museum's artifacts. The carousel is a National Historic Landmark.

The fourth level also houses Science Works (formerly known as Science Spectrum), an exhibit devoted to exploring natural science and physical science through building activities. Children may build toy boats to float along the waterway, play in a construction zone, erect an arch, climb a rock wall, crawl through tunnels, observe a live pond, and participate in other activities. Within Science Works is the Biotech Lab, which hosts daily events focusing on the future of DNA and chemistry and SciencePort which focuses on plant biology.


Dinosphere logo
Panoramic view from Dinosphere

Dinosphere is connected to the main museum on the Lower Level (through All Aboard), Level One (near the food court and main entrance gates), and Level Two (through the The Mann Properties Gallery of Dinosaur Imagery). Dinosphere was formerly the Cinedome Theater. Dinosphere features a sound and light experience that simulates a day in the late Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. The center of the exhibit space includes three themed fossil scenes. Visitors can perform fossil excavations in the Dig Site, touch a real Tyrannosaurus rex femur fossil in the Paleo Prep Lab, talk to real paleontologists, enjoy family-friendly games and touch-screen learning activities, and view numerous real dinosaur fossils from the Cretaceous period on display. Dinosphere is one of the largest displays of juvenile and family dinosaur fossils in the U.S. The exhibit features several species of dinosaurs including Hypacrosaurus, Prenoceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Gorgosaurus, Maiasaura, Bambiraptor, Oviraptor, and Dracorex hogwartsia. Several ancient non-dinosaur creatures are also featured, including Didelphodon, Sarcosuchus (super croc), and Pteranodon.

See also

  • List of children's museums in the United States



  1. ^ a b Bodenhamer , p. 410
  2. ^ Danilov, p. 229
  3. ^ a b Bodenhamer , p. 412
  4. ^ a b c d e Bodenhamer, p. 411
  5. ^ a b "Look inside Children's Museum addition". Indianapolis Star. 2010-10-29. Retrieved 2010-10-19. 
  6. ^ "Museum Staff". The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Retrieved 2010-10-19. 
  7. ^ 2008 Annual Report, p. 5
  8. ^ 2008 Annual Report, p. 2
  9. ^ 2008 Annual Report, p. 16
  10. ^ 2008 Annual Report, p. 39
  11. ^ Eileen Ogintz (2011-07-13). "Delving into the world's largest children's museum". MSNBC. Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  12. ^ "Artifacts and Specimens from the Museum's Collections". The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Retrieved 2010-10-20. 
  13. ^ Sandler, p. 37
  14. ^ Sandler, p. 186
  15. ^ "The 10 best children's Museums". Parents magazine. Retrieved 2010-10-20. 
  16. ^ Thomas, P.J (2010-08-11). "P.J. Thomas: Children's Museum of Indianapolis". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  17. ^ Anon (2011-08-19). "The Children's Museum of Indianapolis Creates New Learning Opportunities through Wikipedian-in-Residence". The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c Byrd Phillips, Lori (2011-07-29). "QR codes + Wikipedia = QRpedia". The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  19. ^ "Press Release". The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Retrieved 2010-11-02. 
  20. ^ "All Aboard!". The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Retrieved 2010-10-19=9. 
  21. ^ "Staab Studios". 
  22. ^ "Brian Cooley studio". 


External links

Coordinates: 39°48′39″N 86°9′27″W / 39.81083°N 86.1575°W / 39.81083; -86.1575

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