Brookfield Zoo History

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Among its historical firsts are indoor multispecies exhibits, zoo nutrition residencies, methods for animal husbandry, and medical care that includes successful brain surgery for a gorilla.

Read "Brookfield Zoo 80th Anniversary"  View Historical Photos

Read below the Society's highlights per decade since Brookfield Zoo opened on July 1, 1934.


On July 1, Brookfield Zoo, buildings designs by Edwin H. Clark, architect opens to the public.
Cookie Cockatoo arrives. He is the only animal resident still living since opening day.

Su-lin becomes the first panda in a U.S. zoo and is a sensation. A year later, pandas Mei-mei and Mei-lan arrive at Brookfield Zoo.

Georgie-Joe is the first black rhino born in a zoo. Today, conservation of endangered species like black rhinos is a hallmark of the Society.

The Society offers to sell animals to private citizens to raise money due to low attendance during war years. Today, zoos must follow strict rules governing animal exchanges.

The zoo acquires Kamala Rani and Kashi Ram, two rare Indian rhinos, in the wild.


The first animal hospital opens. At the time, Brookfield Zoo is only the third zoo in the country with a dedicated hospital.

Children's Zoo1953
Children’s Zoo opens, beginning decades of connections between Chicagoland children and domestic native animals.

Roosevelt Fountain is created to honor President Theodore Roosevelt for his conservation efforts.

Wolf Woods is carved out of the forested area in the western part of the zoo. Staff soon undertake groundbreaking studies on wolf behavior.

Mr. G is the first okapi born in a U.S. zoo. These animals become another species studied by Society researchers.


The original Seven Seas Panorama (located where The Living Coast now stands) opens as the country’s first inland dolphinarium.

Olga Walrus arrives. With her playful antics and memorable personality, she inspires guests to care for marine mammals.

The first Mold-A-Rama machine is installed.

A diesel-switch train runs around the zoo.
The sale of marshmallow is discontinued. The Society is now a leader in animal nutrition.


The Volunteer League is created. Volunteers currently give countless hours to the zoo each year.

Work begins on Tropic World. The exhibit’s three sections open in 1982, 1983, and 1984.

The first Boo! at the Zoo is held.

The Parents Program (now Share the Care program) begins. This valuable support contributes directly to the expert care and feeding of our animals.

Affie Elephant arrives. As a beloved ambassador for the wild, she inspires generations of Chicagoans to learn about conservation issues around the world.


Samson Gorilla arrives. He sires five offspring, adding important genetic diversity to zoo gorilla populations. A statue commemorating this popular primate now stands at the entrance to Tropic World.

The first Holiday Magic is held and soon becomes an annual tradition with Chicagoland families.

The zoo celebrates its 50th anniversary with concerts by the Osmond Family, the Beach Boys, Jonny Cash, and others.

The Society further solidifies its conservation efforts by establishing a Conservation Biology Department staffed by world-renowned scientists and researchers.

The new Seven Seas Panorama opens and becomes as popular as the original exhibit.


The Society helps found the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force to help save amphibians around the world.

A specialist in animal enrichment is hired, part of Society efforts to provide the best care possible for the animals.

A new animal hospital opens, enhancing animal care efforts and making the Society a leader in zoological medicine.

Golden lion tamarins live outdoors to train them for reintroduction to South American rain forests.

Brown bear cubs Jim and Axhi were rescued by the Society on Admiralty Island, Alaska.

The Society becomes a founding member of Chicago Wilderness, a leading group that restores and protects hundreds of acres of wild areas in Chicagoland.

Binti Jua Gorilla rescues a boy who falls into the Tropic World exhibit.

  • 2000
    The Society helps launch a new discipline called conservation psychology, which is the scientific study of the relationship between people and nature.

    Hamill Family Play Zoo opens.

    The Center for Conservation Leadership is launched, focusing the Society’s efforts on creating conservation leaders, protecting the natural world, and outreach and education around Chicago.
    The largest modern, handcarved wooden carousel in the world makes its debut.

    The Center for the Science of Animal Welfare opens. It is initiated to help the Society become world experts in the scientific care of animals.

    The Dinosaurs Alive! seasonal exhibit opens. It features the Ruyang Yellow River dinosaur, the largest animatronic dinosaur in the world.

    Great Bear Wilderness2010
    Great Bear Wilderness opens.

    The Xtreme Bugs exhibit opens.

    The Dinosaurs made a comeback to the zoo.

    The Ann McLean Conservation Center opens.


Member of Chicago Collections

About Brookfield Zoo

Archival Services:
Carla Owens
Manager, Library Services & Archives
Chicago Zoological Society
Phone: 708-688-8583

80th Anniversary

80th Anniversary

Brookfield Zoo has been at the forefront of animal care and conservation since opening its doors in 1934.


Center for Animal Welfare

Read about our innovative practices in animal welfare to ensure the ultimate care of our individual animals.

Classes & Camps

Conservation Leadership

We place a high priority on developing and supporting conservation leaders of all ages and backgrounds.

Adopt an Animal

Community Impact

We partner with various communities in helping people appreciate and learn about the roles they play in conservation.