Navy Pier is the People’s Pier, Chicago’s lakefront treasure, welcoming all and offering dynamic and eclectic experiences through partnerships and programs that inspire discovery and wonder.
Navy Pier, Inc. (NPI) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation established in 2011 to maintain Navy Pier and oversee the redevelopment of one of the most important civic landmarks in the United States and the top-visited leisure destination in the Midwest. Looking ahead to Navy Pier’s 100th anniversary in 2016, NPI created The Centennial Vision, a framework for reimagining Navy Pier. Grounded in the noble principles of its founding designers, The Centennial Vision adds a visionary and contemporary lens for the future.
NPI’s mission to be a world-class public place that celebrates and showcases the vitality of Chicago and provides for the enjoyment of Chicago-area residents and visitors year-round. NPI manages Navy Pier within a business framework that provides for its long-term financial stability.
While looking forward to what is relevant for Chicagoans today, NPI leadership is ever conscious of famed architect Daniel Burnham’s vision to transform the lakefront into attractive and useful public space for active recreation and social interaction – a source of pride and common ground that fosters a sense of community within the city’s diverse population.
NPI’s objectives for the future remain consistent with Burnham’s enduring values for the ‘People’s Pier’ to be a place where local residents and visitors from around the world come to experience the natural beauty of the lakefront and Chicago’s magnificent skyline.
New! Watch WTTW's documentary, Navy Pier: A Century of Reinvention.
Historic Navy Pier® is the #1 leisure destination in the Midwest, welcoming nearly nine million visitors annually.
Navy Pier has enjoyed a remarkable evolution. Originally designed for shipping and recreational purposes, the facility has evolved into a premiere entertainment and exposition center.
Detailing its successful rebirth as one of Chicago's most important historical landmarks, the following timeline illustrates the challenges and changes faced by Navy Pier over the years. Our history continues to take shape as we build excitement and reimagine Navy Pier for our second century. Click here to download a copy of the history.
Daniel Burnham creates the "Master Plan of Chicago" which originally envisioned five piers. Eventually, only one 1.5 mile long recreational pier with freight and passenger ship docking facilities was commissioned to be built near the mouth of the Chicago River.
Construction begins under the direction of the nationally known architect Charles Sumner Frost. Completed in two years, construction of the Pier costs $4.5 million.
Municipal Pier opens to the public. It is the only pier to combine the business of shipping with the pleasure of public entertainment.
When the U.S. enters World War I, the Pier houses several regiments of soldiers, Red Cross and Home Defense units as well as a barracks for recruits.
The Pier boasts its own streetcar line, theater, restaurants and an emergency hospital.
The Pier enters its "golden age" of recreational and cultural activity as Chicago Mayor William H. Thompson's "Pageants of Progress" draw nearly a million visitors during 15 days of events.
The Chicago Federation of Labor establishes its pioneer radio station and transmission for WCFL, "the voice of labor," in the north tower.
Municipal Pier is officially renamed Navy Pier as a tribute to Navy personnel who served during World War I.
The Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression, as well as the increased use of automobiles resulted in the decline of freight and passenger ship activity. During the 1930's, the Pier housed various New Deal agencies.
Navy Pier's freight and passenger traffic declines with the onset of the Great Depression, though cultural and recreational use continues.
Century of Progress Exposition (World's Fair) on the lakefront draws 1,500 conventions and 1.5 million visitors.
Pilot training orientation commenced at Navy Pier. Eventually, 15,000 pilots were qualified for military service, including a young airman named George H.W. Bush, the future President of the United States. As many as 200 WWII planes still rest at the bottom of Lake Michigan as a result of accidents during training.
The Navy operated various training programs at Navy Pier throughout the war. Those enrolled often became aviation machinist's mate, metal smiths or diesel engine technicians. By the time training ceased in July 1946, some sixty thousand people—including sailors from Great Britain, Canada, Brazil and Peru—were trained at Navy Pier.
The Navy moves out and the University of Illinois takes up residence, transforming the facility into a two-year undergraduate branch campus that remains in existence until 1965. The Navy's main mess hall becomes a giant library considered "the largest reading room" in Illinois.
The Pier handles 12-16 huge trade shows/exhibits and social events annually. Until McCormick Place opens in 1960, all trade shows in Chicago are held either on Navy Pier or at the Union Stockyards Amphitheater.
The Pier was widened by 100 feet with the construction of the South Dock. At its peak in 1964, Navy Pier handled 250 overseas vessels annually and was one of the greatest inland ports in the world.
The city's first Holiday Folk Fest is held at the Pier, featuring food and products from countries represented by Chicago's many ethnic groups.
The University of Illinois moves from Navy Pier to its new Circle Campus, just west of the city.
Fire destroyed the original McCormick Place. Navy Pier helped keep many conventions and trade shows in Chicago for the four years it took to rebuild McCormick Place.
After McCormick Place re-opened, Navy Pier falls into disuse.
The spectacular Grand Ballroom undergoes a renovation as part of the city's observance of the country's Bicentennial Celebration.
City Hall designated Navy Pier as a Chicago Landmark.
Navy Pier hosts ChicagoFest, drawing millions of visitors with music, food and entertainment.
The Illinois General Assembly created the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and designated it to manage and operate both McCormick Place and Navy Pier. The Authority moved swiftly to redesign Navy Pier into one of the country's most unique exposition and recreation facilities.
As part of the $150 million Navy Pier redevelopment project, improvements are made to nearly every aspect of the Pier. The 1,500-seat outdoor Skyline Stage opens to the public.
The newly renovated Navy Pier re-opened, featuring a mix of year-round entertainment, shops, restaurants, attractions and exhibition facilities.
Navy Pier celebrates its first anniversary season.
Navy Pier officials and the Shakespeare Repertory Theater announce plans to build Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier. Additionally, construction is completed on a new six-story parking garage, bringing the number of on-site parking spots to 1,740. Navy Pier draws record attendance with an estimated seven million visitors between July 1996 and June 1997.
Navy Pier hosts the City of Chicago's first-ever Tall Ships festival.
Navy Pier opens its newest attraction, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Modeled after London's Swan Theatre, it features an intimate 525-seat courtyard-style theater with unequaled views of the lakefront, an English-style pub, a studio theater, a bookstore, a Teacher's Resource Center and an English Garden.
The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows debuts at Navy Pier. It is the first museum in the United States dedicated solely to stained glass windows. This permanent display of 150 stained glass windows is housed in an 800-ft.-long series of galleries along the lower level terraces of Festival Hall, showcased both secular and religious windows divided by artistic theme into four categories: Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary.
Navy Pier celebrated the 10th anniversary of its re-opening, with a special ceremony in which city and state leaders, VIP guests and MPEA officials thank the estimated 76 million guests who have visited the site during the past decade. The tribute ceremony culminated with performances by the renowned South Shore Drill Team, a fly-over by the Lima Lima Air Team and the introduction of a new Navy Pier mascot, named Patch the Pirate Dog.
Three major tenants joined the Navy Pier family, providing exciting new dining options for our customers—Harry Caray's Tavern at Navy Pier, Auntie Anne's Pretzels, and Jamba Juice.
William J. Brodsky
Chairman, NPI Board
Chairman of the Board
CBOE Holdings Inc.
Lisa Konik Aronin
Boys & Girls Club
Bruce R. Bachmann
Polk Bros Foundation
Crown Packaging International
Norman R. Bobins
Vice Chairman of the Board
Douglas R. Brown
Powers, Rogers & Smith, P.C.
Bucksbaum Retail Properties LLP
Chico & Nunes PC
Professor of Law Emeritus, President Emeritus
Illinois Institute of Technology
Secretary, NPI Board
Cultural Advisory Council
Patrick F. Daly
The Daly Group
Marilynn K. Gardner
Ex-Officio, NPI Board
President & CEO
Navy Pier, Inc.
Treasurer, NPI Board
Shedd Aquarium and NPI
Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Ex-Officio, NPI Board
Roger J. Kiley, Jr.
Ex-Officio, NPI Board
Roger J. Kiley, Jr. Law
Charles R. Matthews
Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago Federation of Labor
Senior Vice President
President & CEO
Financial Investments Corporation
If you want to know what business opportunities are available, please visit the Navy Pier website regarding contracting opportunities. NPI encourages minority and women-owned enterprises to seek business opportunities at Navy Pier. Find more information here.