Now and Then: Aquariums thru the Ages

1856 Aquarium

“The term "aquarium", coined by English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, combines the Latin root aqua, meaning water, with the suffix -arium, meaning "a place for relating to". The aquarium principle was fully developed in 1850 by the chemist Robert Warington, who explained that plants added to water in a container would give off enough oxygen to support animals, so long as the numbers of animals did not grow too large. The aquarium craze was launched in early Victorian England by Gosse, who created and stocked the first public aquarium at the London Zoo in 1853, and published the first manual, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea in 1854.” (Wikipedia)

“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, Hóngwǔ, 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.” (Austin Aquariums) The materials for making aquariums has progressed with time starting with natural materials, stone, marble, clay urns, and porcelain tubs. Wood was used once a method of sealing it was developed using a pitch coating. Glass made viewing from the side instead of the top a reality very early on, however it was not widely used till the mid-nineteenth century. “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."(Wikipedia) Metals are corrosive and only stainless steel can be used in aquariums, esp. if saltwater is being used. It was not until the 1960's that all glass aquariums were possible due to the advent of tar and silicone. Metal frames were used for purely aesthetic reasons after this, though on larger tanks the frame does serve to add structural strength.

“Most aquaria consist of glass panes bonded together by 100% silicone sealant, with plastic frames attached to the upper and lower edges for decoration. The glass aquarium is standard for sizes up to about 1,000 litres (260 US gal; 220 imp gal). However, glass as a material is brittle and has very little give before fracturing, though generally the sealant fails first. Aquaria are made in a variety of shapes, such as cuboid, hexagonal, angled to fit in a corner (L-shaped), and bow-front (the front side curves outwards). Fish bowls are generally either made of plastic or glass, and are either spherical or some other round configuration in shape. The very first modern aquarium made of glass was developed in the 19th century by Robert Warrington. During the Victorian age, glass aquariums commonly had slate or steel bottoms, which allowed them to be heated underneath by an open-flame heat source. These aquariums had the glass panels attached with metal frames and sealed with putty. Metal-framed aquariums were still available until the mid-1960s, when the modern, silicone-sealed style replaced them. Acrylic aquariums first became available to the public in the 1970s. Laminated glass is sometimes used, which combines the advantages of both glass and acrylic. Glass aquaria have been a popular choice for many home and hobbyist aquarists for many years. Once silicone sealant became strong enough to ensure a long-term water-tight seal, it eliminated the need for a structural frame. In addition to lower cost, glass aquaria are more scratch resistant than acrylic. Although the price is one of the main considerations for aquarists when deciding which of these two types of aquaria to purchase, for very large tanks, the price difference tends to disappear. Acrylic aquaria are now the primary competitor with glass. Prior to the invention of UV stabilization, early acrylic aquaria discolored over time with exposure to light; this is no longer the case. Acrylic is generally stronger than glass, weighs less, and provides a certain amount of temperature insulation. In colder climates or environments, it is easier to achieve and maintain a tropical temperature and requires less capacity from an aquarium heater. Acrylic-soluble cements are used to directly fuse acrylic together. Acrylic allows for the formation of unusual shapes, such as the hexagonal tank. Compared to glass, acrylics are easier to scratch; but unlike glass, it is possible to polish out scratches in acrylic. Large aquaria might instead use stronger materials such as fiberglass-reinforced plastics. However, this material is not transparent. Reinforced concrete is used for aquaria where weight and space are not factors. Concrete must be coated with a waterproof layer to prevent the water from breaking down the concrete, as well as preventing contamination of the water by the concrete. Plywood can also be used when building aquaria. The benefits of using plywood include: lower construction costs, less weight, and better insulation. A popular positioning choice for plywood aquaria is keeping them in a wall. Here the use of plywood is hidden by sinking the aquarium inside the wall. Putting insulation between the two helps with the insulation of a heated tank.” (Wikipedia)

“In the United States, as of 1996, aquarium keeping is the second-most popular hobby after stamp collecting. In 1999, an estimated 9.6 million US households owned an aquarium. Figures from the 2005/2006 APPMA National Pet Owners Survey report 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% of aquarists maintain two or more tanks.” (Wikipedia)

So as you can see Aquariums have come a long way and have grown immensely in popularity in the past 50 years, largely due to the technology being made available at an affordable price. The one item the fish keeping hobby cannot do without is air and pumps have come a long way in efficiency, size, and quiet operation. Filtration too has made the hobby, so the next topic on the Colorado Aquarist will be Filtration, Air, and Circulation.


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