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Tag Archives: Aquarium History

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Aquarium History and the Holidays

Patty here. Christmas is a time for giving, as is said, and more than a few out there might be receiving (or giving) something aquarium as a gift this year.  Some will get their very first aquarium kit or bowl, and will anxiously await the time a few days later when they’ll add their first fish and plants to the tank.  It may turn out to be that person’s first taste of what will develop into a life-long passion, hobby or even career. I’m sure that most of you reading this can relate to the experience, getting your first tank, setting it up, getting a second tank for that other type of fish you want to keep, or upgrading to the biggest tank you can fit in your living room. 

Working in the industry and in the hobby, I really find the advances in aquariums and aquarium keeping fascinating.  The technology grows by leaps and bounds each year, and the possibilities are almost endless to what can be housed in aquariums today.  With all the equipment and products available to us today, you have to wonder how it was all started.

An aquarium may be defined as a receptacle consisting of at least one transparent side in which water dwelling plants or animals are kept.  Did you know that people have been keeping fish indoors since Roman times?  The introduction of glass panes around 50 A.D. allowed them to keep sea barbels indoors. The glassed replaced one wall of the marble tanks that contained the fish, allowing them to be viewed with ease.  Fish were also kept by ancient Egyptians and Asians, both as a food source, and for aesthetics.  In the 1300’s large porcelain tubs were produced for keeping and breeding goldfish.  From these early ideas and developments, aquariums evolved in shape and integrity to accommodate the demand.  In the early 1800’s, Dr. Nathaniel Bragshaw Ward developed the Wardian Case, a terrarium that allowed for the successful cultivation and transport of plants.  This was the inspiration for aquariums that we know and love today.  By 1850, not even a decade after the first were produced, these aquariums enabled people to maintain freshwater and marine organisms in stable containment for years at a time.  This hobby popularized quickly in the United Kingdom. In addition to there being ornate, cast iron framed aquaria featured in the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first large public aquarium opened at the London Zoo in 1853, known as the Fish House.

The aquarium hobby exploded after that, spreading across Europe and to the U.S. with aquarist societies, literature, and aquarium advancements fueling the fire.  The interest grew stronger during the Victorian era, when models for society homes were made available, usually constructed of pitch-sealed wood and glass with a slate bottom that could be heated from below.  Native species could be collected and contained easily.

With the introduction of electricity to homes the hobby flourished.  Tanks could be installed in more homes, with artificial lighting, filtration, aeration, and heating.  The boom brought the industry to a boil, gave rise to a demand for exotic fish imports, and allowed it to grow into the phenomenon it is today.  You are one of around 60,000,000 aquarists worldwide and growing.

So whether you’re contemplating your first betta bowl, buying your kid an Eclipse Aquarium kit, or testing the integrity of your floor to see if it will support the weight of a huge new reef tank, know that it’s good to be a part of a hobby so diligently contrived and deeply rooted in history.  We’ve come a long way!