Things I learned at Chicago’s Pumping Station: One

pumping station one makerspace chicago

A week ago I hadn’t even heard of Pumping Station: One, Chicago’s north side hackerspace. Now I’ve been there twice.

My second visit was a somewhat spontaneous one, late last Friday night. I wasn’t sure exactly what would transpire and I felt like a fish out of water, but that was okay. I figured I’d meet interesting people and learn new things.

Check and check.

I wound up hanging with a group of mostly 20-something, mostly guys at midnight. You know, just a typical night out for me. And I got to meet Dale Dougherty, Publisher of Make Magazine.

And I learned:

Chicago is home to America’s oldest brewing school, the 140-year-old Siebel Institute of Technology.

Also, there’s a growing north side hipster fanbase for “nerd burlesque.” What?! No, really, it’s a thing: strip shows themed on Star Trek, Mario, Dr. Who and such. (And it’s coming to Skokie?!)

Of course, I learned about maker stuff, too.

As with many of these types of spaces, Pumping Station: One (PS 1) is a “do-ocracy”. That is, you realize something needs to be done and you do it. It reminds me of the co-op I lived in my last semester of college- a surprising mix of people working together for the common good. Everyone gets along (mostly) and it’s all peachy until someone cracks under the pressure of a dissertation deadline and shows up at a BBQ with a gun.

But, uh, hopefully that last thing won’t happen at PS 1 (and by the way, no one was injured at the BBQ).

Along with Dale, we talked about the difference between hackerspaces, (PS 1’s office designation), makerspaces (how I think of it) and fab labs.

Fab Labs

I thought fab labs were makerspaces primarily run by gay men. It turns out “fab” does not stand for fabulous (which is honestly what I thought), but fabrication.

MIT developed the fab lab concept, which is more top-down and cookie-cutter than the other types of spaces. By definition, they come with a high price tag. We’re talking $25 – $50K of equipment just to get started. But the similarities between fab labs mean they all share basic capabilities. Therefore, something produced in a Chicago lab could be easily replicated by labs across the globe. You could say these fabrication labs are indeed fabulous in their own way.


These are typically grass-roots member-supported sites featuring a wide range of tools ranging from a basic band saw up to a CNC machine or laser cutter. PS 1 not only features a few high-tech gems, but also a loom, sewing machine, t-shirt making equipment, a food science kitchen (coming soon) and a functional TARDIS. (Okay, the time travel kinks haven’t been worked out, but it has other bells and whistles.)

In my mind, a hackerspace is a makerspace with attitude. Though admittedly, the attitudes at PS 1 have been positive. People are there to make and learn, and hang out a bit.


This term is often used interchangeably with the term hackerspace, but sounds considerably less badass. These are sometimes also called creative spaces. Dale thinks of makerspaces as hackerspaces that skew to a younger audience, so it’s fitting that I’m calling our basement (which is still evolving) workshop a makerspace.

I enjoyed a fun, if unusual, night out, and I look forward to my next trip to PS 1. Hopefully, that one will actually involve making something, but, more likely, it will be to pick up flyers I can distribute for the upcoming Mini Maker Faire.

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