Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as

From the Waters of the Empire to the Tanks of Paris: The Creation and Early Years of the Aquarium Tropical, Palais de la Porte Dorée

  • Sofie LachapelleEmail author
  • Heena Mistry


From May to November 1931, the Exposition coloniale internationale was held in Paris. Publicized as a trip around the world in a single day, it was designed to stimulate investments and general enthusiasm for the colonies. Along with exotic temporary pavilions representing the various colonies, model villages inhabited by colonial natives, and pavilions representing commercial product brands and other colonial powers, the exposition included a zoo and an aquarium featuring animals from the colonies. Installing a large aquarium had been a costly and difficult process, and construction was plagued by many delays and problems. But when the aquarium finally opened a few months into the exposition, it quickly became a favorite of the public. With the double mission to provide a living synthesis of the products of the warm waters of the French empire and give visitors a sense of the diversity, beauty, and economic resources of their colonial possessions, the aquarium functioned as a panorama that presented a striking visual metaphor for the empire. This article follows the aquarium during the exposition and in the years that followed. We explore its place in the history of aquaria in general and pay particular attention to its role in the exposition and within the French colonial context of the 1930s and onward. Here, both the scientists in charge of the site and the aquatic animals living in its tanks and terrariums provide a window into the relationship of marine biology, public education, consumerism, and colonialism at mid-twentieth century.


Aquarium Exposition coloniale internationale Fish Colonial fisheries French colonialism Jean Abel Gruvel Marine biology 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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