I can unfortunately remember fish keeping from the early fifties. The very early fifties and it was vastly different from today and almost a different hobby.
Tanks were all made with slate bottoms and angle iron corners. Silicone was not invented yet so they used this black stick stuff called asphalt varnish which was basically tar. Now tar was great for sealing ancient sailing ships because they had slaves to bail out the water that continuously leaked into the ship but it is not the best thing for sealing a fish tank.
I remember how thrilled my Mother was when my little five gallon tank leaked on our set of encyclopedia’s (encyclopedia’s are like huge computers made out of paper only they cost more). By the way, the tanks had slate bottoms because in the 1800s when people in Europe started keeping fish their homes were not heated and they would place oil lamps or candles under the tanks to heat them but lets not dwell on that.
Silicone was probably the single, most important thing that advanced this hobby past goldfish.
But that was fresh water and the metal framed slate bottomed tanks were for the most part fine.
Then we graduated into saltwater and found that those iron framed tanks rusted badly in just a few weeks. I spent many hours re sealing those tanks with this black sticky stuff that came in a little tube. Thank God for silicone.
Of course salt water had other problems like filtration. We all had those little HOB filters lying around so we used those. They also had metal cased pumps so in a couple of months we had to throw out those rust covered disasters.
Finally someone invented power heads that were in a plastic case. Unfortunately the case was full of ventilation holes and the pump inside was made out of that same iron. These were certainly not submersible but were carefully positioned on the tubes of the UG filter.
Let’s talk about lights. Metal again. Everything was metal. Don’t forget, plastic was not a common item a few decades ago. I realize that today just about everything is made out of it but then there was almost no plastic of any type. Wrap your brain around that for a while. TVs were made of wood. Yes the same stuff we make trees out of. Toys and just about everything else was metal. There was this stuff called Bakelite that we used for pot handles and fuse panels that looked like hard plastic but it was far from it.
We also had rubber. Rubber is great for a lot of things including wire insulation, unfortunately after a number of years it rots. You did not want to touch those early electrical cords with wet hands.
Anyway lights were sheet metal and you had to push this little metal push button on the side of the fixture and hold it in to light the fluorescent light. We soon learned to push that button with a stick because there were no GFCI’s and due to salt creep you learned very fast not to touch the light or put your hand in the water until you unplugged everything. Turning it off was not good enough because the live wires connected to the switch still woke you up even with the switch off. I was thrown across the room quite a few times.
Those first “power heads” also had to be oiled often. You would smell the burning oil as soon as you went near the tank because they would run very hot.
If you had an air pump they were also metal and worked with a leather piston. The piston needed to be oiled every few days and that caused a colorful oil slick on the surface of the water.
Vibrating air pumps came out much later and made unpleasant noises so they had to be put in a closet so you could hear your wooden TV.
There was no salt water food but we did have freshwater flakes. Just for your information, before flakes, fish food was dried ants. No really.