The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet (1856), suggested for basic utility, "a properly built vessel of rectangular outline, having at least two sides of glass" was to be best; a century and a half later, aquariums haven't evolved to be much better.
Aquatic Vivariums, as they were called, were shown at the The Crystal Palace (London International Exposition of 1851); soon a Fish House was constructed at the London Zoo, ushering in a public interest for raising animals and plants in glass cases. Indeed arm-chair zooligists seemed to abound, observing nature through a parlor tank. This fad fueled a firm in London which held large quantities of fresh seawater they could deliver regularly like milk.
When Philip Henry Gosse, the David Attenborough of his day, published drawings of captive fish in his book titled The Aquarium (1854), the name seemed to stick. Through attentive observation he found "idiosyncrasy in the inferior animals". His perspective is typical of the subjective nature of Aquariums and appreciation for their passive entertainment value.
"The essence of an aquarium is the creation of an illusion. The illusion is that of the aquatic world" ~ Forbes, Kerry Scott,The Denver Aquarium, 1985 Thesis.
Though the basic design of the fish tank went unchanged, people did begin to modify it's operation. Simple water regulation was difficult to maintain and oxygen levels were inconsistent. The fountain system was created to rectify that. A closed circulation system from one tank to another was arranged in cascading rows of table top displays; while an improvement it was less than optimal.
The first aquarium air pump was invented in 1908, it was powered by running water. The electric air pump wouldn't enter the home market until after World War I. Silicone sealant allowed Martin Horowitz in L.A. to make the first all-glass aquarium in the 1960s. Aquarium keeping became the second-most popular hobby after stamp collecting. In 2000 the industry reported 9 million households with aquariums, in 2005 Americans were keeping up to 139 million fish (APPMA National Pet Owners Survey)
"The true and perfect Aquarium should be self sustaining. ... the animal portion being sustained by the oxygen generated by vegetation, and the vegetable part by the carbon exhaled by the animal... in the Aquarium the nearer we can arrive at an equalization of the two powers, the nearer we approach perfection." (J.H. Collier, The American Parlor Aquarium, Or, Fluvial Aqua Vivarium, 1866).
Over the years the improvements to housing these tropical animals is primarily seen in minor changes to the opperational gear like pumps, filters, lights and heating elements. Still, the silicone material used to create a watertight seal continues to be problematic through deterioration and the rigid structures can sustain damage to the crucial silicone seals even through shipping. The watertight seal, sooner or later, breaks down and leaks and the aquarium is disposed of.
The SymSyn Nature Cabinet system solves this obsolescence problem with a radical design change.
"Not only men but all living things stand or fall together. Or rather man is of all such creatures least able to stand alone. If we think only in terms of our own welfare, we are likely to find that we are losing it" (Joseph Wook Crutch).
"Thus did the excellent method of seeking the cause of phenomena by experiments often lead us to interesting results. We had among us many children and young people who had reached the age of ardent curiosity. We took pleasure in pointing out to them the means of studying natural science; and we were not long before feeling convinced that our lessons out in the fields had much greater success than those given between the four walls of a class-room.
"Having chased butterflies and insects, we next desired to study the aquatic creatures which swarmed in the pools of the neighbourhood. For this purpose I constructed a fishing-net fitted to an iron ring, and firmly secured to a wooden handle. When this was plunged under the water and drawn quickly out again, it came back full of slime. In the midst of this muddy substance one generally succeeded in finding the hydrophilus, tadpoles, coleoptera, many curious kinds of caddis-worms, tritons, and sometimes frogs, completely astounded by the rapidity of their capture.
"All these creatures were transported in a bottle to the house, and I then constructed, at small expense, a glass aquarium, by means of the bell of a melon-glass turned upside down, thus forming a transparent receptacle of considerable size. Four wooden stakes were then fixed in the ground, and a plank with a circular hole nailed on the top, in which the glass bell was placed.
"I next scattered some large pebbles and shells at the bottom of the vase to form a stony bed, poured in some water, placed a few reeds and water plants among the pebbles, and then threw a handful of water lentils on the surface; thus a comfortable home was contrived for all the captured animals.
"The aquarium, when placed under the shade of a fine tree in a rustic spot abounding with field flowers, became a favourite rendezvous, and we often took pleasure in watching the antics of the little inmates. Sometimes we beheld very sanguinary scenes; the voracious hydrophilus would seize a poor defenseless tadpole, and rend him in pieces for a meal without any compunction. The more robust tritons defended themselves better, but sometimes they also succumbed in the struggle."
(Popular Scientific Recreations, 1883).
"The menagerie was soon further augmented by a hitherto unthought-of object; namely, a frogs' ladder. It was made with much skill. A large bottle served for the base of the structure. The ladder which was fixed in it was composed of the twigs of very small branches, recently cut from a tree, and undivested of their bark, which gave to the little edifice a more picturesque and rustic appearance. The pieces of wood, cleverly fixed into two posts, conducted the green frogs (tree-frogs) on to a platform, whence they ascended the steps of a genuine ladder. There they could disport themselves at pleasure, or climb up further to a branch of birch-tree placed upright in the centre of the bottle.
A net with fine meshes prevented the little animals from escaping. We gave the tree-frogs flies for their food, and sometimes they caught them with remarkable dexterity. I have often seen a frog when at liberty watching a fly, on which it pounces as a cat does on a bird.
(Popular Scientific Recreations, 1883).
The Royal Aquarium, Westminster, was concieved as a place of quality entertainment in 1880. It was short-lived. The water supply systems functioned poorly and the few fishes on display were not quickly restocked. The public soon lost interest and the facilities were shut down in 1903.
"I think I may write on this subject with something like authority, for I have pursued it as an exclusive occupation, zealously and unremittingly, for the last dozen years, and during that period I have collected the names and addresses of not fewer than eight thousand persons interested in aquarian matters, and for these persons I have set up, under all possible circumstances, many hundreds of Aquaria and out of these not more than about the odd forty-eight are now in successful operation. All the others belonged to individuals who merely took up the thing as a transient fashion, or who, knowing and caring a little about it at first, soon abandoned it from discovering that so long as aquaria are made for houses, instead of houses for aquaria, no satisfactory result could be obtained."
William Alford Lloyd, Aquarian Difficulties, 1866
Aquarium maintenance is still difficult today, resulting in barren and turbid aquaria.
An aquarium, terrarium and animal trophies
greet you in the Victorian vestibule.