The beginnings of aquarium history can be traced back to the 1820s. Through the mid-1800s aquariums displayed rarely exceeded ten gallons, a size used often today in homes and offices. In the United States, the first public aquarium opened in Boston in 1859.
The Waikīkī Aquarium opened on March 19, 1904; it is the third oldest aquarium in the United States. Its adjacent neighbor on Waikīkī Beach is the Natatorium War Memorial.
Then known as the Honolulu Aquarium, it was established as a commercial venture by the Honolulu Rapid Transit and Land Company, who wished to “show the world the riches of Hawaii’s reefs”.
It was also a practical objective of using the Aquarium as a means of enticing passengers to ride to the end of the new trolley line in Kapi‘olani Park, where the Aquarium was located. (The trolley terminus was across Kalākaua Avenue from the Aquarium, near the current tennis courts.)
Many in the community hoped that the Honolulu Aquarium would help develop a flagging tourism industry with the Aquarium serving as a “point of interest.”
Author Jack London called it a “wonderful orgy of color and form” from which he had to tear himself away after each visit.
When the property lease expired in 1919, the Cooke Estate ceded the Aquarium’s property lease to the Territory of Hawai‘i, and the newly formed University of Hawai‘i assumed administration of the Aquarium and the laboratory.
During these early years (1919 – 1973) admissions to the Aquarium were deposited to the State General Fund and did not return to the Aquarium for upkeep.
It was renamed the Waikīkī Aquarium following its reconstruction in 1955.
Compounding the financial and maintenance difficulties was the moving of the research function of the Aquarium to two new University institutions: the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) at Coconut Island in Kāne‘ohe Bay, and the Pacific Biomedical Research Center.
In 1975, when Dr. Leighton Taylor was appointed the third Director many positive changes came to the Aquarium and is credited for saving the aquarium from closing.
The logo, Education Department, Volunteer Program, library, research facility, gift shop, Friends of the Waikīkī Aquarium support organization and the first Exhibits Master Plan (1978) all came into being during his tenure.
By accepting donations, memberships and grants, the Aquarium was able to fund increased services and to renovate exhibits.
In April 2004, after an extensive international search, Dr. Andrew Rossiter was appointed the fifth Director, joining the Aquarium at the onset of its 100th Anniversary celebrations.
His long-term ambition at the Aquarium is to increase public awareness of the ecology and conservation of marine life and reef habitats through aquarium exhibits, research and education.
The Waikīkī Aquarium is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., daily – general admission is $9; kama‘aina – $6
Special hours: Thanksgiving Day (November 22, 2012) 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (facility closes at 3:00 p.m.); New Year’s Day (January 1, 2013) 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (facility closes at 5:00 p.m.) and is Closed for the Honolulu Marathon Day (December 9, 2012) and Christmas Day (December 25, 2012.)
The image, from the University of Hawai‘i, shows the Waikīkī Aquarium in 1921. In addition, I have included several other aquarium and related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section (Courtesy of Waikīkī Aquarium) on my Facebook page.