Exhibits Overview

Exhibits Overview

Permanent Exhibits
The Museum has seven permanent exhibits that tell the rich history of our community. Visitors learn about the City’s beginnings, the road race, Hiawatha Pageant, the Elgin National Watch Factory as well as products that were once made in Elgin. View Museum Map (PDF).

  • Elgin: From River to Rails presents the founding of Elgin and the earliest settlers, including the Gifford family, builders of the first cabin in Elgin and considered the city’s founders. This exhibit space spans two rooms that include the history of Elgin through the 1890’s. There are many hands on activities for kids to explore these exhibits including loading the wagon, playing in the cabin and selling items in the grocery store!
  • Explore Elgin Architecture illustrates the many building and design styles still evident throughout Elgin, and identifies prominent Elgin architects.
  • Made In Elgin exhibit highlights many products that were manufactured in Elgin including Toastmaster, Elgin Street Sweeper, Elgin Dairy and more.
  • Elgin Road Races highlights the brief but colorful history of the Elgin Road Race, held first in Elgin in 1910. Children can get behind the wheel of a reproduction road race car or have their picture taken with Ralph Mulford, winner of the first road race held in 1910.
  • Hiawatha Pageant celebrates the long-running annual pageant staged by Carl Parlasca. The colorful exhibit features authentic Native American costumes as well as costumes created for the pageant itself.
  • The Elgin National Watch Company room features a wall mural of the clock face that once graced the watch factory tower, original watchmaking tools from the factory, and many examples of Elgin watches, including the 13th watch produced on the famed assembly line.
  • Elgin: 20th century presents Elgin through 1970’s. Visitors will learn about Elgin going dry before Prohibition, the devastation of the Palm Sunday Tornado and how Elginites stayed strong through the depression and WW2 to create an All American City in 1952.


Visitors with young children

boy-in-car The more kids know about history, the more appreciation they have for their place in the community and in the world. The Elgin History Museum is a great place to foster engaged citizens! Exhibit spaces were built with little ones in mind. Anywhere you see a red hand that is your chance to explore, to touch, to experience. Ride in our model 1910 race car decked out with helmet and safety glasses. Set up shop in Kretchmer’s grocery store – and don’t forget to wrap all the packages for the customers. Riffle through trunks of early Elgin immigrants. Listen to the Song of Elgin. Blast the car horns of the past. Don’t forget to ask the Museum docent for a scavenger hunt when you visit. Have fun bringing history to life through experiences!


Temporary Exhibits

poster_tMadman Muntz: Pop History Icon (till late spring 2017)

This exhibit on the second floor highlights the life of Elginite, Earl Muntz, who made a name for himself in California by becoming a well known, flamboyant entrepreneur. This exhibit highlights portions of the award winning 2005 documentary of the same name. The documentary film is a “cinematic saga of Earl Muntz… A fun-loving rascal who played as hard as he worked, he made and lost three multi-million dollar fortunes, competed with RCA and Motorola with his Muntz TVs, produced America’s first sports car (the Muntz Jet), literally invented car stereo, and still found time to hang with Howard Hughes, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan, Gene Autry and Clark Gable, date Ava Gardner, film noir icon Jane Greer and comedienne Phyllis Diller, and marry and divorce seven glamorous women!” Three rare Muntz TVs are on display as well as an original Muntz Stereo-Pack, clips from the documentary, and wonderful Muntz ads from the 1960s-1970s.


Elgin American Compacts: Designing for American 1926 – 1951 (till 2018)

This exhibit on the second floor highlights the contributions of a few key designers that brought fame, recognition and artistry to the Elgin American brand of compacts from the year’s 1926 through 1951. Famous artists such as Salvador Dail, respected designers such as Peter Muller-Munk and Walter Teague along with Elgin American employees, Robert Ridges, Albert Wewetzer and James Eppenstein. The exhibit features actual compacts where visitors can observe the craftsmanship, understand how compact styles changed over time and why the humble compact became a must-have fashion accessory.

Traveling Exhibits

Traveling exhibits that are available for display are Project 231, City Planning In Elgin and The Jewish Experience in Elgin. Please note these exhibits are currently not on display in the museum. If you are interested in any of these exhibits traveling to your area please contact the Museum Director, Elizabeth Marston for more information.