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History of Aquarium Keeping

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History and Popularization of Aquariums

Antique Victorian Style AquariumVictorian Cast Iron fish tank with detailed egrets on the base in the brushes. This one bears the JW FISKE Park Place label. Measurements: 29" wide, 49" tall. The Victorian fish tanks were considered a symbol of wealth, which brought mysteries of deep into homes of the mid 1800s.

Some of the first fish to be brought indoors

In the Roman Empire, the first fish to be brought indoors was the sea barbel, which was kept under guest beds in small tanks made of marble. Introduction of glass panes around the year 50 allowed Romans to replace one wall of marble tanks, improving their view of the fish. In 1369, the Chinese Emperor, Hongwu established a porcelain company that produced large porcelain tubs for maintaining Goldfish; over time, people produced tubs that approached the shape of modern fish bowls. Leonhard Baldner, who wrote Vogel-, Fisch- und Tierbuch (Bird, Fish, and Animal Book) in 1666, maintained weather loaches and newts.

In 1836, soon after his invention of the Wardian case, Ward proposed to use his tanks for tropical animals. In 1841 he did so, though only with aquatic plants and toy fish. However, he soon housed real animals. In 1838, Felix Dujardin noted owning a saltwater aquarium, though he did not use the term. In 1846, Anna Thynne maintained stony corals and seaweed for almost 3 years, and was credited as the creator of the first balanced marine fish tank in London. At about the same time, Robert Warrington experimented with a 13-gallon container, which contained goldfish, eelgrass, and snails, creating one of the first stable aquaria. He published his findings in 1850 in the Chemical Society's journal.

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Popularization of the Aquarium

The keeping of fish in an aquarium became a popular hobby and spread quickly. In the United Kingdom, it became popular after ornate aquariums in cast iron frames were featured at the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1853, the first large public aquarium opened in the London Zoo and came to be known as the Fish House. Philip Henry Gosse was the first person to actually use the word (aquarium), opting for this term (instead of "vivarium") in 1854 in his book The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea. In this book, Gosse primarily discussed saltwater aquariums. In the 1850s, the aquarium became a fad in the United Kingdom.

Germans soon rivaled the British in their interest. In 1854, an anonymous author had two articles published about the saltwater aquaria of the United Kingdom: Die Gartenlaube (The Garden House) entitled Der Ocean auf dem Tische (The Ocean on the Table). However, in 1856, Der See im Glase (The Lake in a Glass) was published, discussing freshwater aquariums, which were much easier to maintain in landlocked areas. During the 1870s, some of the first aquarist societies were appearing in Germany. The United States soon followed. Published in 1858, Henry D. Butler's The Family Aquarium was one of the first books written in the United States solely about the aquarium. According to the July issue of The North American Review of the same year, William Stimson may have owned some of the first functional aquaria, and had as many as 7 or 8; the first aquarist society in the United States was founded in New York City in 1893, followed by others. The New York Aquarium Journal, first published in October 1876, is considered to be the world's first aquarium magazine. In the Victorian era in the United Kingdom, a common design for the home aquarium was a glass front with the other sides made of wood (made watertight with a pitch coating). The bottom would be made of slate and heated from below. More advanced systems soon began to be introduced, along with tanks of glass in metal frames. During the latter half of the 19th century, a variety of aquarium designs were explored, such as hanging the aquarium on a wall, mounting it as part of a window, or even combining it with a birdcage.

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Aquariums became more widely popular as houses had an electricity supply

Aquaria became more widely popular as houses had an electricity supply after World War I. Electricity allowed artificial lighting as well as aeration, filtration, and heating of the water. Initially, amateur aquarists kept native fish (with the exception of goldfish); the availability of exotic species from overseas further increased the popularity of the aquarium. Jugs made from a variety of materials were used to import fish from overseas, with a bicycle foot pump for aeration. Plastic shipping bags were introduced in the 1950s, making it easier to ship fish. The eventual availability of air freight, allowed fish to be successfully imported from distant regions. In the 1960s metal frames made marine aquariums almost impossible due to corrosion, but the development of tar and silicone sealant allowed the first all-glass aquaria made by Martin Horowitz in Los Angeles, CA. The frames remained, however, though purely for aesthetic reasons.

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Aquarist Worldwide to Date

There are now around 60 million aquarists worldwide. In the United States, aquarium keeping is the second-most popular hobby after stamp collecting. In 1999 it was estimated that over nine million U.S. households own an aquarium. Figures from an APPMA National Pet Owners Survey reported that Americans own approximately 139 million freshwater fish and 9.6 million saltwater fish. Estimates of the numbers of fish kept in aquaria in Germany suggest at least 36 million. The hobby has the strongest following in Europe, Asia, and North America. In the United States, 40 percent of aquarists maintain two or more tanks.

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