While fish tanks were known in Ancient Rome and Medieval China, balanced aquariums were not developed until the 1840s. After the London Zoo opened an impressive Fish House in 1853, and several enthusiasts produced books explaining how aquatic plants and animals would keep other alive, aquarium keeping became the order of the day—and microscopes for examining plants and animals in aquaria were soon to be had.
Frederick Blankley presented a “Tank Microscope” made by James Powell Swift to the Royal Microscopical Society in 1870. It was, he said, “constructed in a simple and inexpensive way, which may induce many to study ‘Life as it is’ in the aquarium, without having to expend a large sum of money for the purpose.” Richard Halsted Ward showed a Swift tank microscope at an American microscopical meeting later that year.
This example, which came from Ward’s daughter, is a compound monocular held on a horizontal arm; this is mounted on a square brass pole, and equipped with rack-and-pinion for focus; the pole, in turn, stands on a heavy cylindrical base.
Ref: “A Revolving Stage and a Tank Microscope,” Monthly Microscopical Journal 3 (1870): 209-210.
“Report of the Microscopes and Microscopical Apparatus Exhibited at the Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Troy, N.Y., August 1870,” Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 18 (1870): 381-384, on 384.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1870
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 45.9 cm x 9.2 cm x 22.6 cm; 18 1/16 in x 3 5/8 in x 8 7/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Scientific Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Miss Charlotte B. Ward
Additional Media

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