The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture is dedicated to preserving the story and traditions of Lithuanian Americans and their homeland. It was founded in 1966 by the Balzekas family, partly to push for Lithuanian independence. The facility is one of the largest sources of Lithuanian knowledge and artifacts outside of Lithuania itself, and serves as an anchor for Chicago’s Lithuanian American community. It contains thousands of historic and cultural artifacts; many permanent and temporary exhibits; and a research library. It also offers various outreach programs, most notably a biannual trip to Lithuania. The museum is a member of the Chicago Cultural Alliance.
of Chicago is home to the largest Lithuanian community outside of Lithuania
itself. Thousands of Lithuanians began immigrating to the United States
starting in the nineteenth century, and peaking around the late 1800s and early
1900s. The exact number of Lithuanians who immigrated is difficult to determine
as the country was part of the Russian Empire until 1918. A large amount of
these immigrants found their way to Chicago, where they developed communities
in the Bridgeport and Marquette Park neighborhoods. They formed their own
schools, churches, newspapers, and fraternal organizations. The Lithuanian
community in Chicago was famously portrayed in the 1906 novel The Jungle, which inspired the passage
of federal food safety laws.
new wave of Lithuanian immigration came during and after World War II as a
result of the incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. The new
immigrants revitalized the community and established institutions to preserve
their culture such as the American Lithuanian Council, the Lithuanian Studies
Center, and the Lithuanian World Community. Many were strong supporters of
Lithuanian independence, which finally occurred in 1991. Today the Lithuanian
community in Chicago maintains very strong ties with Lithuania; the country
even has a consulate in the city.
Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture was established in 1966 by Stanley
Balzekas Jr., the son of Lithuanian immigrants. Balzekas’ family was very
active in the Lithuanian community; his father paid for 345 Lithuanian families
to immigrate to the U.S. after World War II. Originally the museum had two
objectives: to preserve Lithuanian culture among the immigrants; and to
advocate for Lithuanian independence. After Lithuania regained independence,
the museum adapted and now works to educate the public on the traditions of
Lithuania and Lithuanian immigrants around the world. At its beginning the
museum consisted of the personal collection of the Balzekas family (which
included artwork, maps, and armor) and was housed in a two-story building on
South Archer Avenue, next to the family’s car dealership. In 1986 the museum
was moved to South Pulaski Road, renovating and occupying the former Von
Solbrig Hospital building. The museum expanded over the years through donations
and purchases; today it possesses the largest collection of Lithuanian
artifacts outside of Lithuania.
the Balzekas Museum has an assortment of temporary and permanent exhibits
exploring the history and culture of Lithuanians both in their homeland and the
United States. It includes a Children’s Museum featuring interactive and
hands-on activities. There is an extensive library and genealogy archives for
museum members. The museum also has a large online gift shop and hosts a
biannual trip to Lithuania.