Portrait Eighty-nine years ago today, 12 civic movers and shakers met in the office of Chicago’s premier architectural firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, on the 14th floor of the Railway Exchange Building (later the Santa Fe Building and today Motorola) on Michigan Avenue. There they incorporated the not-for-profit Shedd Aquarium Society.

Their object was “to construct, maintain, and operate an aquarium or museum of aquatic life, exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, for the collection, care, study and exhibition of fish and other aquatic animal life and plant life, and the education of the public with reference thereto.”

Representing Marshall Field & Company president John G. Shedd, who had donated $2 million to build the world’s largest, finest aquarium in Chicago, and presiding over the meeting was James Simpson, Mr. Shedd’s right-hand man at Field’s. A negotiator extraordinaire, Simpson would secure the land on which to build the aquarium.

Melvin A. Traylor, soon to become president of the American Bankers Association and president of Chicago’s largest bank, was elected president of the Shedd board of directors. Another big name in Chicago banking, Albert W. Harris, became the society’s treasurer. Stanley Field, nephew of Marshall, was elected secretary. He would oversee the aquarium project after Mr. Shedd’s death in 1926, and lead the board from 1934 to 1961. 

Among the other founders present were meat-packing magnate Charles H. Swift and architect Ernest Graham, whose buildings included the Field Museum and, under the direction of Mr. Shedd, Marshall Field’s flagship store on State Street. His firm would also design the aquarium, the most elaborate and thematically perfect creation in GAP&W’s Beaux Arts catalog.

Happy birthday, Shedd Aquarium!

Karen Furnweger, web editor