John G. Shedd, Founder
Less than a year after the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago was on the rebound. It was a city of opportunity for ambitious young men, and John G. Shedd was among them. He had left small-town New England determined to make it big in a big city.
In 1872, the 22-year-old walked into the Field, Lieter & Company store on State Street and asked Marshall Field for a job. With confidence, Shedd said to Mr. Field, “Sir, I can sell anything.”
It was Marshall Field who called Shedd “the greatest merchant in the United States.” When Field died in 1906, Shedd succeeded him as president of Marshall Field & Company. Under Shedd’s direction, Marshall Field’s grew from the biggest store in Chicago to the largest wholesale and retail dry goods business in the world.
Shedd became one of the city’s major philanthropists — donating tens of thousands of dollars to local charities, museums and universities. As a civic leader and member of Chicago’s Commercial Club, Shedd helped implement the 1909 Plan for Chicago that set a new vision for the young city.
“We all felt that if new things came, they would be via Shedd,” said a Marshall Field’s employee. Certainly it was in this spirit that Shedd began to think about his aquarium. Sure, it came from a strong sense of civic responsibility. He wanted to do even more for the city that had done so much for him. So Shedd made a stunning $3 million gift to build Chicago’s aquarium.
Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see his dream come true, dying on October 22, 1926, of complications from appendicitis. Thirteen months later, ground was broken for his aquarium. The rest is history.
A Shedd Family Affair
John G. Shedd’s widow, Mary, gave generously to the aquarium over her lifetime. With her help, the aquarium was able to keep its doors open during the Great Depression — no small feat. And it was Mary Shedd who recognized that the aquarium would go nowhere without an endowment. So she started one — with a $1.5 million contribution, a huge gift in 1938.
Passion for Shedd Aquarium runs in the family. In 1930, John and Mary’s grown daughters, Helen Shedd Reed Keith and Laura Shedd Schweppe, contributed $400,000 to make the aquarium’s first animal collection a reality. Many years later, Helen helped to fund Shedd’s Aquatic Education Center, named in her honor, which opened in 1975.
Helen’s son, John Shedd Reed, joined the aquarium’s board of trustees in 1961, serving as president from 1984 through 1994. A terrific fundraiser, Reed was instrumental in securing support for the $49.2 million Oceanarium. Because of his outstanding leadership, Shedd honored him with the newly created position of life trustee in 2000.
Today, the family is represented on the board by John Reed’s daughter, Ginevra Reed Ralph. That’s four generations and counting.
Walter H. Chute
Walter Chute was a self-taught fish expert. As associate director, he traveled the United States and Europe on a fact-finding mission researching aquariums before ground was broken for Shedd. He filled a small notebook with information and intricate diagrams. (We still have that very notebook here at Shedd.) He wanted to make sure that the world’s greatest aquarium was built just right. Clearly, he was a very detail-oriented fellow.
Upon his return in 1926, Chute worked closely alongside the aquarium’s architects. He supervised installation of the latest aquarium technology and oversaw construction of the galleries to make sure that guests would have the best views possible.
Chute was promoted to director in 1928. It was a position he would hold for nearly four decades. Among his many accomplishments, Chute managed to keep the aquarium afloat during two tough times in our history: the Great Depression and World War II. He also produced Shedd’s first visitor guidebook and spread word of Shedd’s world-class collection through articles he wrote for National Geographic.
William P. Braker
“It was Bill Braker who could see the winding trails and hear the whales long before they existed here.” So said John Shedd Reed about one of the aquarium’s most forward-thinking directors. Braker was the first formally trained biologist to lead Shedd. In fact, he was the first person with a college degree to work here.
It was Braker who helped transform Shedd Aquarium from a collection of fine fish to an outstanding educational institution. This did not happen overnight. During his three decades of service, Braker brought innovation and excellence to the aquarium. Many people said that he put Shedd back on the map.
Under his leadership, Shedd renovated exhibit galleries and opened the Caribbean Reef. We acquired a research vessel for specimen collection and scientific expeditions. We opened the Aquatic Education Center, and we launched special exhibit programs to increase attendance and visibility.
It was Braker, along with board chairman John Shedd Reed, who led the charge for creation of the Oceanarium. He brought in renowned architect Dirk Lohan to design the award-winning addition, and he oversaw every last detail. The Oceanarium marked a new era of innovative exhibits and programs at Shedd.
Braker’s expertise extended well beyond Shedd. As a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), he helped to create the first standards of practice for the industry. In 1999, he was presented with the AZA’s prestigious R. Marlin Perkins Award for his lifetime contribution to excellence in the profession.
Ted A. Beattie
President and CEO, 1994 to present
Ted Beattie believes that any success at Shedd is a shared success, that honest-to-goodness teamwork pays off and mentoring in the workplace is heartfelt and hands-on. And it shows.
During Ted Beattie’s tenure, we have kicked exhibitry up another notch with the creation of Amazon Rising and Wild Reef. We have built powerful conservation partnerships around the world and launched dynamic education programs. And we have seen aquarium attendance grow to nearly 2 million annual guests through blockbuster shows like Seahorse Symphony and Crabs!
Beattie received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in public relations from Ohio State University. For three years he served as marketing director for the Cincinnati Zoo, then in 1981 joined Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo as associate director. Following stints at the Knoxville Zoological Gardens and the Fort Worth Zoo, Beattie came to Shedd Aquarium in 1994.
“Make Shedd the friendliest place in town.” This is what Ted Beattie wants for our guests — and the people who work here. He also wants Shedd to be nothing short of the nation’s leader in conservation education.
While he feels uncomfortable being singled out for recognition, a few things are worth mentioning. In 2001, Beattie was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. In 2005, he received the R. Marlin Perkins Award, the highest honor given by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for extraordinary service.
How to sum up Ted Beattie’s leadership style? He guides the team that makes Shedd a leader.