This is topic is one that has always interested me so I thought it would be a fun topic to post here. The below is based in a lot of different books and articles that I have read over the past few years. It’s more of a collection of some of the important milestones that played a big part in developing into the hobby we all enjoy today. I hope I have remembered all of the dates correctly, so here goes…….
It seems like you can find evidence of some type of aquarium dating back to about as far as you can research. The earliest evidence of keeping fish (a least some very well documented examples that I was able to find) dates back to the time of the Roman Empire. These early beginnings were only a means to keep a fresh source of food alive for short periods of time in pond like structures. This practice involved both fresh water and marine fish. Around the same time (maybe even earlier), some Chinese cultures were keeping carp as a fresh source of food which latter evolved into a fresh water aquarium hobby in these cultures. These early beginnings were important beginnings for the aquarium hobby to gain in popularity elsewhere latter on.
By the 1800s, some of the tanks used were just crude wooden tanks built onboard sea faring ships as a means to keep freshly caught fish alive for at least some part of the journey. This helped to ensure a fresh source of food for the crew. Other tanks (not aboard ships) had a single pane of glass for viewing. Latter during the early to mid 1800s, the concept of the “balance aquarium” started developing as a basic understanding of the relationship between oxygen and the nitrogen cycle began to evolve. This knowledge continued to evolve and lead to the first stable aquariums. In 1846 Anne Thynne maintained the first stable marine aquarium keeping a tank for almost 3 years with some macro algae and corals. Also sometime in the mid-1800s, Robert Warington was credited with having the first stable freshwater aquarium that contained: goldfish, plants, and snails. If I remember correctly, both were smaller tanks which I believe were around 15 to 20 gallons. These initial successes continued to lead to more developments in the hobby like the first air pump which was invented in 1908.
During the early 1900s, aeration and carbon filtration was developed and was thought to be on the leading edge of aquarium technology at the time. Around the 1920s, the hobby gained some more popularity again. During this time era, tanks were being made with panes of glass held together with metal frames and various forms of lead based putties to help satisfy the growing demand. The typical was stocked with mostly local species. The glass tanks we use today did not start showing up for sale until around the mid 1960’s
Once the technology of international and continental flights become main-stream around the 1950s and 1960s, the hobby took another big step forward due to better survival rates shipping live fish long distances. More and more species of fish (both fresh water and salt water) were now becoming available to keep. This increased interest an already growing hobby. This higher level of interest also accelerated advancements in our understanding of managing the nitrogen cycle leading to the early development of some of the equipment we use today such as: the first electric air pumps, the first box filters, and the first under gravel filters. Marine aquariums were not very popular yet as you required access to fresh sea water (as artificial salt water mixes were not common place yet) and success was still very limited. Back then, corals and many species of marine fish were still thought to be almost impossible to keep for the average person. During this same period of time (the 1950s) the first fish foods were starting to be made and sold, and the hobby started to become more affordable for the average family.
The 1960s brought even more advancements to the equipment used. Eheim, which was a successful toy manufacture at the time, developed one of the first powerheads for use in the hobby. Around this same period of time, Norbert Tunze also started manufacturing and selling the first Tunze Turbelle powerheads which have grown in popularity and still remain among the mainstream powerheads in the marine hobby today (as well as one of my favorite powerheads). Norbert Tunze later developed a skimmer which was among the first few skimmers to hit the market. A little later on, Mr. Eugen Jäger and sold under the brand name Jäger, the first few electric aquarium heaters. Also during the mid to late 1960s, the first few moderately successful salt mixes started hitting the market and hobbyist started to understand the role live rock plays in the nitrogen cycle in marine aquariums.
Around 1973/1974 the first HOB filters were developed and sold in the market like the Aquamaster 300 and the Aquamaster 600 just to name two of them. These earlier HOB filters were among some of the first popular filters to be sold with a pump to move the water. These pump motors were not the electromagnetic motors that are commonly found today and were usually very problematic. Hagen latter launched the Aqua-Clear HOB filter in 1978/1979 with the first hermetically-sealed pump eliminating a lot of problems of the early models. This Aqua-Clear filter evolved into today’s Aqua-Clear filter that many of us have come to depend upon today. The 1970s also saw the launch of the first canister filter manufactured by Vortex.
In 1975, the first marine fish were bred in captivity by Frank Hoff and Tom Frakes of Instant Ocean Hatcheries. Also, Chris Turk and Martin Moe of Aqualife Research started successfully breeding a few different species of clown fish during this same year. Most people started to shed the perception that marine fish were very difficult to keep.
The next big advancement in aquarium filtration took place during1984/1985 with the introduction of the wet/dry filter and was used in both freshwater and saltwater tanks. This now made it possible to have a stable enough marine tank to keep a wider range of corals for the average hobbyist.
From 1985 to 2005 there was a lot of advancements in both fresh and saltwater set-ups in areas like: chemical and biological filter media, canister and HOB filters were improved, skimmers and calcium reactors went through continual advancements, and lighting was also improved through developments like T5HO and LED lightning. These are just a few that I have personally observed being around, or keeping my own tanks over the past 15 or so years.
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing the next evolutions in equipment and new knowledge and practices developing within the hobby in the years to come.
Here’s some the information that I used when writing the above.