Its “land” component included investments into the construction and operation of the Honolulu Aquarium (now the Waikīkī Aquarium), a popular attraction at the end of the Waikiki streetcar line.
“The company’s service extends to Waikiki beach, the famous and popular resort of the Hawaiian and tourist, and where the aquarium, the property of the company, is one of the great objects of attraction.”
“Kapiolani Park, the Bishop Museum, the Kahauki Military Post, the Royal Mausoleum, Oahu College and the Manoa and Nuuanu valleys are reached by the lines of this company.” (Overland Monthly, 1909)
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”.
The Aquarium opened with 35 tanks and 400 marine organisms, and during its first year, the internationally renowned biologist David Starr Jordan proclaimed it as having the finest collection of fishes in the world.
Considered state-of-the-art at that time, the Aquarium also received positive comments from such notable visitors of that era as William Jennings Bryan and Jack London. (Waikiki Aquarium)
For its first 15 years the aquarium operated as a privately financed institution, with display animals collected by local fishermen.
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.