On June 20, 1969, the New England Aquarium we know today opened its doors to the public. The Aquarium was designed with the intention of providing an underwater experience for visitors as well as a cultural institution that would connect Boston to its waterfront. In its almost four decades of existence, the Aquarium has grown in size and evolved in concept.

This timeline highlights many of the Aquarium’s changing exhibits, expeditions and innovations—almost 40 years of innovative education and programming, as well as a physical space that has evolved to keep pace with millions of visitors.

Extensive programs were developed to help preserve marine life and bring about a better understanding of it. Notable innovations were the Giant Ocean Tank, opened in 1970—at the time, the largest circular salt water tank in the world—and the Simons IMAX® Theatre, still New England’s largest screen, which opened in December of 2001.

Today, the Aquarium is one of Boston’s premier visitor attractions and a major resource for public education.  Beyond its exhibit halls, the Aquarium is also a leader in global marine conservation, with scientists working around the globe.

The history of aquariums in Boston has been a long and complex one, and before the New England Aquarium was built, there had been three prior aquariums in the city. But it was not until 1969, and the launch of what we now know as the New England Aquarium, that a private non-profit aquarium took its place on the Boston waterfront, opening its doors to over a million visitors each year.