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Edelman Museum preserves the company and founder’s legacy 

In the Chicago office of Edelman, one of the world’s largest communications firms, the desk of founder Dan Edelman sits underneath a custom chandelier made to look like a flurry of memos descending upon the large wooden desk. The desk is the grounding artifact in the center of the Edelman Museum, made to honor the legacy of Dan and the company’s work. The museum turns two later this year and has become the centerpiece of the company’s West Loop office. 

The museum was put together largely by Dan’s children who continue to run the firm; CEO, Richard, Senior Vice President, Renée and Managing Director of Global Engagement and Corporate Responsibility, John. Additional curation and design support was done by an in-house team at Edelman and design firm Gensler. When the company moved to its current office space in 2021, after being housed in the Aon Center since 1995, the group of siblings saw an opportunity to create a space to honor their father’s contributions to the PR world, who died in 2013. The museum opened in honor of the company’s 70th anniversary on Oct. 1, 2022.  

Edelman was founded in 1952 by Dan, a journalist turned World War II veteran who enlisted for active duty in the military in 1942 and later reported on German propaganda and decoded disinformation. After serving overseas, Dan returned to the states and began work in public relations before stepping out to establish his own firm, Edelman, a decade after he enlisted. In the 70-plus years since the company’s founding, Edelman has worked with many of the world’s largest companies including Viacom, CVS, Microsoft, Dove and countless more. The company was also instrumental in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. 

John and Renée have both worked for the company for over three decades and said that honoring their family’s legacy and impact on the shaping of modern public relations was important to them. 

“That’s what we really wanted to showcase here, how Edelman is a trailblazer,” Renée said.  

After Dan’s passing in 2013, his children converted his office in the Aon Center into a smaller version of a museum. The small office space was a blueprint of sorts for what would become the larger museum in the current West Loop office space. Using the company’s 70th anniversary as the occasion to expand the museum, creative and facilities teams at Edelman worked alongside the siblings to create a more interactive museum that still displayed the chronology of the company’s work, but also featured video and auditory elements that visitors could step up and watch.  

“We really wanted to create a museum experience with interactive opportunities so people could really understand the history, the legacy, the values,” John said. 

A custom chandelier made to look like a pile of news clippings and memos floats above the founder’s desk on May 1, 2024. | Photo by Avery Heeringa.

The process of combing through Dan’s memos, papers and work was largely headed by Renée and uncovered just how much of his work he saved over the course of his career. 

“His being a journalist was really a gift because he kept everything he wrote even back to his war years, even back to his childhood,” John said of his father. “He kept a lot of stuff, we had stored a lot of stuff, and now there was an opportunity to put it all together and what we have here is only a few elements of it.” 

The museum begins with outlining the company’s core values: the relentless pursuit of excellence, the freedom to be constantly curious, the courage to do the right thing and the commitment to positively impact society. As visitors make their way into the space, Dan’s military uniform and war memos are displayed adjacent to the large desk in the center of the room. 

On the surface of Dan’s desk lies a mock-memo ending with a quote from Dan that reflects the ethos of the company: “It’s great to be the largest PR firm, but we must always strive to be the best PR firm.” Memos from Dan’s desk and news clippings are immortalized in glass recreations, arranged in a cascading swirl, illuminated by light to create an abstract chandelier representing the founder’s around-the-clock ideas for his work.

“It brings him to life even more,” John said. “His values were consistent whether he was in the war, when he set up the firm, he was the same person. Seeing all that brought him to life much more.”  

But Dan is far from the only person honored in the museum. An array of 12 distinguished alumni that have worked at the company are also given a spotlight on one wall, opposite the chronological map of Edelman’s campaigns — dating back to the start of the firm. On a wall detailing the company’s commitment to global citizenship, Dan’s wife Ruth is also featured for her work in mental health advocacy. 

“It’s a great honor and a legacy and I think all three of us try to honor our parent’s legacy every day and take it forward in new ways,” Renée said. “We’re very proud of the firm and we want to give opportunities to other people to work here and build the company.”

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