Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin

This is one science museum where the rule is “Please touch!”

By Laurie Arendt

Wisconsin’s newest museum is also its most aptly named. Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin on Milwaukee’s lakefront lets visitors explore the surface vessels that once ruled the Great Lakes, take a close look at the creatures that still call that water home, and explore the practical wonders of man-made creativity.

And hands-on exploration is a must.

Start with a visit to the S/V Denis Sullivan and her dry-dock companion, the Challenge. During the summer, the Sullivan – the world’s only re-creation of a three-masted 19th-century Great Lakes schooner – is berthed here, and visitors can climb aboard for regularly scheduled deck tours, public sails, and longer voyages. In winter, the Sullivan heads south to Florida, but her sister ship, the Challenge, stays behind. This 1852 clipper schooner replica permanently sails on the second floor of the Aquatarium, and her deck offers the chance to try your hand at all kinds of sailing skills, from grappling with a windlass to turning the quarterdeck’s wheel.

Sailors relied on simple machines, and the ships’ related exhibits give visitors a new appreciation for the muscle and the mettle our forefathers used to harness the power of the seas.

For a look at the living exhibits, head down the promenade toward the Aquatarium. The 40-by-40-foot scale model of the Great Lakes on the main level gives you a chance to play nature by controlling the weather and seeing its effects on the Great Lakes.

The Reiman Aquariums trace the route of the Sullivan through the Great Lakes to points southward. The trip starts with a floor-to-ceiling tank that displays some of the local fish that call Lake Michigan home. Move on and look down for a bird’s-eye view of the fish in the brackish St. Lawrence Seaway. A few yards away, look up for a completely different perspective as you continue through the Caribbean Reef.

Don’t forget to stop at the touch tank. If the stingrays are feeling friendly, they might come tickle your fingers. No worries here—they’ve been de-armed, and they’re just as curious as the fish, fry, and other water creatures that inhabit this exhibit, which is populated by half saltwater and half freshwater critters.

Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin’s Technology Wing features manmade innovations, and many have a decidedly Milwaukee flavor to them. Step inside and you’ll first be challenged by a game of tick-tack-toe with George, the most competitive robot you’ll ever meet. Next, you’ll get a warm, larger-than-life virtual greeting from Lynde Bradley, one of the founders of Milwaukee’s Allen-Bradley Corporation. Mr. Bradley is more than pleased to see you, and he’ll invite you into the Rockwell Dream Machine to try your hand at producing a few free take-home trinkets using Rockwell machinery, from a replica of the Sullivan to a set of Allen-Bradley coasters.

Next it’s up the Double Helix staircase, which encloses one of the largest human genomes you’ll ever manipulate, to the TechnoJungle on the second floor, where science is a blast and firsthand experience is mandatory. Whether you’re feeling like a bit of a rest on a bed of nails or want to take your first-ever spin on a Segway, this is a place where losing track of time is encouraged. Discovery World also offers a mix of daily interactive lab experiences (on the second floor); some are free with paid admission, while others require preregistration and a small fee.

A trip to the new Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin is likely to be a full-day event—and that’s something that no visitor to this new facility is likely to mind.

If You Go...


Find Wisconsin’s newest museum on Milwaukee’s lakefront, between the Summerfest grounds and the Milwaukee Art Museum. On-site underground parking is available; limited street parking is also available in the lakefront area. Deck tours and public sails on the S/V Denis Sullivan require advance reservations; call (414) 765-8640. For information on Discovery World, call (414) 765-9966.

This entry was posted in Museums & Galleries and tagged Features and Profiles, Destinations