You would have seen the Nautilus railroad car on temporary tracks next to the building if you’d attended Shedd’s opening ceremonies on May 30, 1930. It had just returned from Key West on a collecting trip for reef fishes for the tropical saltwater gallery.

Built in 1929 by the Pullman Car Works in Chicago for about $30,000, the Nautilus was custom fitted with cypress and metal containers for animals and a life-support system of pumps, air compressors, electric refrigeration coils and steam heat for another $10,000 to transport freshwater and marine fishes and invertebrates from cold, temperate and tropical waters. Fully loaded, the car carried 4,500 gallons. It also had modest living quarters for the six-person collecting crew.

The Nautilus was so specialized that the manufacturer stated that it was doubtful anything like it had ever been built before.

From its maiden trip in April 1930 until it was retired in 1957, this rolling aquarium traveled about 20,000 miles a year to Maine, Florida and California as well as around the Midwest, carrying an amazing array of fishes, including Australian lungfish Granddad, back to Chicago to delight and educate aquarium guests. The aging car was replaced with a higher-speed stainless steel Nautilus II, which ran between 1959 and 1972. Today Shedd’s research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II is the basecamp for collecting trips as well as research expeditions and educational programs including our High School Marine Biology classes.

Read more about Shedd’s history!

Karen Furnweger, web editor