John G. Shedd wanted the city of Chicago to have what every great city had. He wanted to give back to the city that made it possible for him to accomplish so much.
Shedd was born in Alstead, N.H. on July 20, 1850, and grew up on a farm. He was one of eight children and showed little interest in the farm life. Instead, his interests looked toward a business career and at 16 years old he moved to N.H. and then Vermont working in retail stores gaining experience. Shedd moved to Chicago in 1872 and took a stock boy position in a small department store. He quickly moved up the chain of command into a managerial position. This small town boy was so brilliant in merchandising that he built the department store into one of the world’s largest. Thanks to the creative genius of Shedd this small business became Marshall Field & Company, one of the largest department stores in the world.
In 1906, the owner of the department store passed away and Shedd was chosen to be the president of the large company. About 12,000 people in the Chicago area were employed by the retail giant, which grossed 25 million dollars in retail sales each year.
It was because of civic-minded businessmen, like Shedd, who shaped Chicago into a first-class city in the beginning of the 20th century. The philanthropist was so grateful for his accomplishments that he wanted to give back to the city he had come to love. Since every major city in the U.S. and Europe had an aquarium, Shedd thought the windy city should not only have one, but he wanted it to be the biggest and the best.
Shedd fancied the aquarium would be a stately building made of marble in Grant Park. He thought it should have aquatic animals from all around the world. His dream was to compliment two of the world’s finest institutions; the Art Institute of Chicago, built in 1879; and the Field Museum, built in 1893.
On Feb. 1, 1924, the Shedd Aquarium society was formed, which Shedd donated two million dollars toward its construction. However, he would not live to see his dream come to light. He passed away on Oct. 22, 1926. He was 76 years old. Shedd envisioned a non-profit aquatic museum for educational and scientific purposes.
The museum’s board of directors consisted of mainly his business partners and friends. They vowed to complete his mission. Just 13 months after his death they broke ground for the aquarium that would be a true tribute to Chicago Shedd wanted.
An Austrailian Lungfish came to the museum in 1933 and made his home in the famous aquarium for 84 years. He was named Granddad, and on Feb. 5, 2017, he swam to the fishbowl in the sky. The fish was loved by the staff and all who cared for him, his legacy will continue.
On May 30, 1930, the John G. Shedd Aquarium opened its doors to large crowds. To this day, it is still one of Chicago’s most famous attractions. It was designed by one of the city’s most prominent architectural firms, who also designed the Field Museum. Visitors may enjoy everything the aquarium offers between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST; closing an hour earlier in winter.
By Katherine Miller
Edited by Cathy Milne
SheddAquarium: Remembering John G. Shedd on his birthday
Shedd Aquarium: An era passes with Granddad
The Art Institute of Chicago: Mission and History
Top Image Courtesy of Shedd Aquarium – Used With Permission
Featured Image Courtesy of Matt B’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License