Shedd Aquarium Society
Shedd Aquarium Society
Incorporated: 1924 as Shedd Aquarium Society
Sales: $25 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 541710 Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences; 712120 Historical Sites; 712190 Nature Parks and Other Similar Institutions
Shedd Aquarium Society manages the John G. Shedd Aquarium, promoted as "The World's Aquarium." With more than two million visitors a year, Shedd is one of Chicago's top attractions as well as the most-visited aquarium in the United States. Shedd is located on Lake Shore Drive's "Museum Campus" next to the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. More than 21,000 animals live at Shedd Aquarium. Facilities include a 3,000-square-foot animal hospital. The institution is involved in considerable marine research and conservation activities.
Chicago business leader John Graves Shedd sponsored the formation of the aquarium with a $2 million gift (later raised to $3 million) in 1924. A native of New Hampshire, he moved to Chicago in 1872 and worked his way up the ranks at Marshall Field & Company. He succeeded the retailer's founder as company president in 1906 and was named chairman of the board in 1923. Shedd intended to give Chicago one thing it lacked among the world's great cities; nothing less than the best would do.
The Shedd Aquarium Society was formed in 1924 and soon secured a location on a vacant lot on 12th Street (later called Roosevelt Road). The architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White were hired to design the aquarium. Europe's top aquariums were benchmarked. For example, new water filtration systems and ample viewing and working areas were included.
Construction began on November 2, 1927. The aquarium cost $3.25 million to build and was housed in a 300-foot-diameter octagonal building made of white Georgian marble. A swamp exhibit was housed inside its 70-foot-tall rotunda.
John G. Shedd passed away before the aquarium that bears his name was finished. The public was allowed in beginning in December 1929—a welcome distraction from the first bitter winter of the Great Depression. There were no fish in the tanks yet. It took another few months to ship one million gallons of seawater by rail from Key West, Florida.
Shedd Aquarium was the world's largest aquarium when it officially opened on May 30, 1930. It was unique for an inland aquarium in having permanent exhibits of both saltwater and freshwater fish. In 1931, the aquarium had 4.7 million visitors, which would be an enduring record.
From the beginning, Shedd claimed the world's largest single collection of sea life. This included a sawfish, the only one on exhibit at the time. In 1933, the facility received two rare lungfish from Australia. One of them, "Granddad," would still be living there at the time of Shedd's 75th anniversary in 2005, making him the oldest known animal in a public display institution.
Other unique species displayed in the early years included the spotted wobbegong shark, Atlantic tarpon, and neon tetra. The tetra, the first of its kind on public display, arrived from Germany via the Hindenburg and was nicknamed "Lindy" after the famous aviator of the day. President Teddy Roosevelt sent the aquarium some triggerfish he caught in the Caribbean in 1933.
Many of the fish were brought to Shedd aboard the Nautilus, a custom Pullman car that cost $40,000 to build and equip. It was in service until 1957. Its successor lasted until 1975, when it was given to the Monticello Railway Museum in Champaign, Illinois.
A notable addition to the collection in 1965 was Chico, a freshwater dolphin from the Amazon. He lived until 1982, setting a record for his species. The aquarium eventually established a 3,000-square-foot animal hospital and was an innovator in the treatment and rehabilitation of sea life.
Caribbean Reef Opening: 1971
Shedd began producing its own synthetic seawater in 1970. The next year, Shedd opened its $1.2 million, 90,000-gallon Caribbean Reef. This replaced the original swamp exhibit in the rotunda and included about 1,000 fish in one of the earlier multispecies exhibits. There were about 200 smaller tanks apart from the central, 90,000-gallon tank. The Caribbean Reef would be revamped in 1999.
By the early 1980s, Shedd had 5,000 specimens of more than 500 different species, according to the New York Times. Exotic creatures were not only obtained from distant seas. The paddlefish, with an exceedingly long nose, came from rivers in the Midwest. Shedd added sea otters to the collection in 1989, a first among the continent's inland aquariums.
Oceanarium Opening: 1991
In April 1991, after years of planning and fundraising, Shedd opened its Oceanarium, a representation of the Northwest Pacific coast. Covering 170,000 square feet, it was the largest indoor marine mammal habitat in the world, and housed Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales in a two million gallon indoor pool, the world's deepest. Six other pools added another one million gallons and contained sea otters and penguins. A 300-speaker sound system played nature recordings taken from the Pacific Northwest. The Oceanarium hosted several daily demonstrations of dolphin and whale behaviors. The Oceanarium was the aquarium's first expansion and cost $47 million to build, including about $5 million on a landfill extending into Lake Michigan. The opening was delayed by the need to reapply an epoxy coating to the tanks.
The man credited as the driving force behind the creation of the Oceanarium, William Braker, retired at the end of 1993. He had been only the second director in more than 60 years. Braker had started at Shedd in 1950 and replaced Walter Chute, the original director, in 1964.
After Braker retired, Shedd hired Ted A. Beattie, formerly director of zoos in Knoxville and Fort Worth, to head the institution. Beattie was experienced in public relations, and Shedd had to maintain its image in the face of vocal animal rights activists opposed to keeping mammals in captivity. Aquariums had a role in promoting respect for wildlife as well as in conservation of endangered species, said Beattie.
Shedd's annual budget was about $20 million in the early 1990s and the aquarium employed 220 people. Research and education were important parts of the mission. Shedd offered the public classes in taking care of tropical fish and aquatic plants.
Shedd was a pioneer in seahorse husbandry (its popular Seahorse Symphony exhibit in the late 1990s featured a number of different seahorses and related creatures). Cetaceans (toothed whales) were another focus of research. Shedd was also researching the reproduction of lungfish, which were notoriously difficult to breed.
More Ambitious Exhibits in 2000 and Beyond
Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River was a unique exhibit that opened in 2000. It represented the wildlife of the world's largest river over the course of a year. The wide range of species included bullet ants, pygmy marmosets, and a green anaconda. The role of indigenous people was also included. In addition, this was Shedd's first exhibit to incorporate live plants. Seasons of the River cost $17 million to build.
The Wild Reef exhibit opened in April 2003. Based on a Philippine coral reef, considered the most diverse of marine ecosystems, Wild Reef was comprised of 26 interconnected habitats. It featured the Midwest's largest public collection of live corals. The 27,000-square-foot, $45 million exhibit also housed more than two-dozen sharks.
Wild Reef also became home to Bubba the Grouper, believed to be the first fish to receive chemotherapy treatment for cancer. This Queensland grouper was literally left on Shedd's doorstep in 1987 while less than a foot long. Bubba had since quadrupled in size and changed sex from female to male, following the development of most groupers. In 2003 he developed systems of connective tissue cancer.
Vision for the Future: As "The World's Aquarium" continues to build its position of leadership, we will set an example through innovative approaches to animal care, exhibits, programs, education and management. Motivated by a tradition of excellence, global thinking and the responsibility for the care of one of Chicago's most valued public collections, our leadership is demonstrated by: Seeking dynamic discourse with and responding to our audience and communities. Ensuring a workplace environment of trust, respect and care. Taking conservation action both globally and locally. Helping others to understand and appreciate the unique and fragile relationship among people, aquatic life and their shared environments. Thinking and acting strategically, including developing strong, collaborative partnerships both within the institution and among our peers.
- Shedd Aquarium opens.
- A record 4.7 million people visit the aquarium.
- First public display of the neon tetra draws thousands.
- Coral Reef/Caribbean Reef Exhibit opens.
- New Oceanarium nearly doubles Shedd's size.
- Popular "Seahorse Symphony" begins two-year run.
- Amazon Rising exhibit opens.
- Wild Reef exhibit is opened.
- Shedd celebrates 75th anniversary.
The aquarium's wildlife conservation activities focused on the critically endangered blue iguana. Shedd was displaying two of the species in 2005 in an exhibit meant to encourage breeding.
Shedd's roofs were upgraded by the addition of a new soybean polymer system installed in 2004. White in color, it was energy efficient as well as environmentally sound in its production, installation, and recycling phases.
75th Anniversary in 2005
Shedd was home to more than 21,000 animals. It was drawing more than two million visitors a year at the time of its 75th anniversary in 2005. A temporary exhibit of more than 30 different species of crabs helped celebrate the milestone.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, admissions, concessions, and gift sales funded nearly two-thirds of Shedd's annual budget of about $38 million. The aquarium was staffed by 600 volunteers in addition to its 250 employees.
Monterey Bay Aquarium; National Aquarium.
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——, "Bit of Chicago History Written in Canada: Shedd Gets Its Whales," Chicago Tribune, News Sec., July 30, 1989, p. 1.
——, "Bubba the Grouper Believed to Be First Fish to Undergo Chemotherapy," Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2003.
——, "Shedd Sails Into Different Waters for New Chief," Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1993.
——, "Sound Advice May Help Aquarium Get Lungfish in the Mood," Chicago Tribune, News Sec., September 6, 1995, p. 1.
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—Frederick C. Ingram