Which came first, the light bulb or the tank?

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Fish Wrangler
Oct 16, 2008
Wonderful Windy Wyoming
Real Name
Last night it dawned on me just how conveniently the typical length of florescent bulbs matches the length of aquariums. Thought just came to me out of the blue while I was watching TV, for no apparent reason. I never thought about it before. I'm actually asking this question only partially rhetorical. Does anybody have any idea? My guess is that the bulbs came first and tanks were built to accommodate 20", 24", 48", etc. bulbs.

Which came first, the light bulb or the tank?

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Mar 29, 2005
I would say the tank..

Which is why some of the off sizes of tank do bit have a bulb thatvspans them.. like 20", 30" etc.
Apr 2, 2002
New York
The first tank I ever saw was a small slate bottom metal frame my father put in the foyer of our house. It had a corner box filter but there was fiberglass in it. This was in the 1950s. I believe it had an incandescent bulb. it had greenery in it but I have no idea if it was live or fake. it was about a 5 gal tank I think. I have no idea what fish were in it.

The word “aquarium” was originally applied to botany and keeping plants in glass containers. That changed in 1832 when naturalist Jeanne Villepreux-Power created the first glass fish tank, and British naturalist Philip Gosse began to use the term in his books.
from https://www.dreamlandsdesign.com/the-history-of-aquarium-and-fishkeeping/

And then
At the turn of the 20th century Peter Cooper Hewitt, an American electrical engineer, developed the basis for the modern fluorescent light. In an attempt to get more energy and less heat from an incandescent lamp, he invented “The Cooper Hewitt mercury-vapor lamp,” which resulted in electrical currents passing through mercury gas sealed in a tube–the basis from which fluorescent lights operate.

The mercury-vapor lamp was more efficient and less expensive than incandescent but it produced an off-putting blue-green light. It took 30 years and a number of inventors along the way to develop the standard fluorescent light for commercial use in the 1930s.
from https://hhfluorescentparts.net/brief-history-fluorescent-lighting/

So the answer is the fish tank came first..........


Global Moderator
Staff member
Jan 11, 2013
West Falls NY
Real Name
Just to expand on TTAs link, the standard fluorescent lighting we're familiar with today came out in the 1930s.

Were standard tank styles and configurations available then? I know metal framed styles were, but they could have been all custom builds with no standardization.

I had a metaframe 10g back in the early 1980s that was given to me by a grandparent. No idea how long they owned it, but know I never saw it setup. Leaky little bugger. It had a matching metal incandescent hood. I don't recall if it held one or two hotdog lamps.
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