The Story of Lincoln Park Zoo: 150 Years in Photos

Chicago Zoo

One of Chicago’s most beloved attractions, Lincoln Park Zoo has been connecting people with unparalleled wildlife experiences as well as leading animal care, education, science and conservation practices for the past 150 years. Free to the public 365 days a year, Lincoln Park Zoo is amongst the oldest zoos in the country and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In honor of this important milestone, we’re taking a look back through the zoo’s history with the help of some incredible photos.

The story of the city’s beloved Lincoln Park Zoo began with two pairs of swans. During the year of the zoo’s founding, 1868, the Lincoln Park Commissioners were gifted two swans by New York City’s Central Park Board of Commissioners. Soon after, additional animals continued to be donated to the park. For many years, the park was considered a menagerie: a place built for people to stroll the grounds and see animals.

Chicago Zoo : Swans
Lincoln Park Zoo swans (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo.)

The 1940s were a launching point for the ongoing innovation of the zoo, both for inhabitants and visitors. The experience transformed to include more representational habitats along with implementing and maintaining higher standards for animal welfare. LPZ began to incorporate preventive veterinary medicine and applied science programs to their animal care practices. In addition, partnerships were launched to continue to connect Chicagoans and beyond to the free, premium wildlife and animal education experience.

As a privately managed nonprofit organization, the Lincoln Park Zoo receives over 80 percent of its operating costs from donors, members and revenue from visiting guests.

In 1959, The Lincoln Park Zoological Society was established to supplement the city’s operational efforts and provide significant capital and programmatic support. In the years following, the Zoological Society launched their first privately funded project, Farm-in-the-Zoo, contributing significantly to the growth of the zoo. In 1995, the Zoological Society took over management.

Chicago Zoo : Farm in the Zoo
The dairy barn at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm-in-the-Zoo, 1968 (Photo courtesy of DePaul University Library.)

The Women’s Board was launched in 1976 to provide supportive funds and service to the Zoological Society and aid in its efforts to improve Lincoln Park Zoo.

Over the years, the Women’s Board has contributed more than $24 million to help the zoo complete projects including Nature Boardwalk, the Waterfowl Lagoon and scenic overlook, Regenstein Center for African Apes, the East Gate entry plaza, and the Kovler Lion House outdoor exhibit.

This summer, the Board will host the Institution’s largest fundraiser, Zoo Ball. The event consistently raises more than $1,000,000 for the zoo.

Campaigns have and continue to keep the zoo and its world-class animal care and programming operating to the public at no cost.

Chicago Zoo
Howard Morgan of Citicorp; Marion Simon, The longest-serving member on the zoo’s Board of Trustees, and zoo director Dr. Lester E. Fisher at the dedication of the Sunform sculpture (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo.)

The zoo is currently in the midst of its largest campaign to date: The Pride of Chicago. The $135 million effort aims to advance the Lincoln Park Zoo environment and experience as an immersive home for wildlife and leader in conservation, science and learning.

In celebration of 150 years, the Zoo is holding a special exhibit depicting LPZ’s past, present and future. From Swans to Science: 150 Years of Lincoln Park Zoo is the zoo’s signature anniversary exhibition which runs from May 20-Sept. 3.

Take a photographic journey back in time to the zoo’s start in 1868, and take a look at some of Lincoln Park Zoo’s most memorable milestones:

Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.