Adler Planetarium reacquires original star projector from 1930, believed to be lost for decades

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Adler Planetarium opened in 1930 as the first planetarium in the western hemisphere, and one of its main attractions was a star projector: the Zeiss Mark II.

This year - after a half-century journey around the country and several decades of concern that it had been lost - the projector finally returned to its original owners.


"The Adler Planetarium is proud to announce that we have reacquired our long-lost, original planetarium projector," said Michelle Nichols, the Adler's director of public observing.

The Zeiss Mark II was actively used on-site for nearly 40 years before it was sold in 1970. It was stored and displayed in planetariums throughout the country, before being eventually sold to an engineer in Ohio in the late 1980s.

Throughout its travels, staff at the Adler lost track of their original projector and could not locate it until 2008, when they unwittingly found themselves in the national spotlight.

John McCain, as the republican nominee for president at the time, singled out the Adler for a funding request to purchase a new projector. Just like its predecessor, the Zeiss Mark VI had decorated the Adler's walls with stars for 40 years.

McCain referred to the machine as an "overhead projector," and denounced the $3 million ask.


The news caught the attention of the same Ohio engineer who owned the Adler's Zeiss Mark II. According to Nichols, that engineer then got in touch and eventually returned the star projector to its original owners.

"A piece of Adler history has come home to Chicago," Nichols said.

Nichols said that restoration efforts will take some time, but she's hopeful the public will be able to see some of the restoration work in progress before it is displayed again.

"We've just recently finished inventory-ing all the pieces and parts, and documenting what shape they're in," Nichols said. "Next step is figuring out exactly how we want to tell its story."

The Adler Planetarium remains closed to the public until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to the public, and has moved all of its programming online.
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