History lighting in the planted aquarium over the past 30 years, color aesthetics

Tom Barr

Staff member
Jan 23, 2005
I could certainly move this back a few decades if I did more research, however, I'll stick with my own personal observations.

In the 1970's, incandescent lighting was the common lighting offered at most LFS's. Fluorescent(FL's) was also common, and considered the best if you could afford it and could DIY or use more custom styled hoods.
Reefs really did not exist, so the marine side was not particularly helpful at that point. Metal halide and mercury vapor were around, but very rarely used. A few started using them and had good results, the open top look was very appealing.
In the 1980's, we saw more wide spread use of CO2 and more lighting, mostly FL's and metal halide pendents. Dupla did a lot to promote the hobby in Europe and a little bit in the USA. In Japan, ADA started to promote CO2 and other plant specific aquarium products, and made specialized FL hoods.

Around 1990 or somewhere in there, Compact FL's became popular and added a lot more light for a reasonable amount of money.
Reefs started being more popular in the hobby.

Will edit and continue later


Lifetime Charter Member
Lifetime Member
Jan 24, 2005
I'll go back to the late 1940's when I got my first aquarium from a doctor who was retiring. It was a 10 or 15 gallon Metaframe with a gravel substrate, several kinds of snails, and a lot of healthy stem plants. I transported it to my home, added water and an incandescent lamp of unknown wattage. It was very successful. Several years later I was given a 20 gallon long. I lit it with 2 lamps and it did well. I learned a lot from it. But I went to college, got interested in mouse genetics, used the tank for that, and left the hobby for 20 years or so.

Later I returned and found Tom Barr and Diane Walstad. Then I used 2 WPG T12 and T8 fluorescents with some success, in a non enriched environment., I wasn't terribly ambitious . Then when I needed to replace a 3 tube T12 unit, I was forced to consider the LED option .

I found a reasonably-priced fixture thanks to a reference from this site. I have no idea what the the WPG or any other metric is.. The fixture has a dimmer that is set now at about 50%. There is some hair algae; I'll remove it and reduce the light. The plants are happy.



New Member
Mar 12, 2016
This is interesting and I go back to the Metaframe era as well. There were no chain LFS's back then and I picked the brain of every store owner I ran into about plants as they were not a heavily merchandised product back then and little was available in the way of variety - mostly just Vals and Swords, plus terrestrial plants which had no business being underwater.

Incandescent lighting was ubiquitous and I remember one owner placed the end of an incandescent bulb directly IN the water which had a gorgeous Sword Radicans ( what they called it back then) underneath.

I eventually found a store in a one of the original, dying strip malls where the owner and his partner had lots of old, established Crypts in very nice display set-ups with the different fish he sold, which I'd read about but could never find before. I ask if he sell me some and he looked sad but said "yes". I felt kinda bad but they were underwater financially and needed the bucks. none were identified but I thought I recognized a cordata sp. and grabbed that.

All an all a much different scene back then.
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Jun 1, 2016
I red a DY book from the 70ties and it was explayned how to build your own aquarium with cement and glass. The sea water was also a DY stuff, buying different salts and mixing them together. Every little thing was more a challenge not just because of the lack of material but for the lack of knowledge.


Junior Poster
Jun 16, 2016
I can not make sense your message.

i edit message to say my page not load properly so I only see last message I make mistake

Adam Edmond

Junior Poster
Oct 25, 2016
United States
Helpful information! I wish you could continue and make the information more simpler such that even the those who are new and those who are planning to venture in will have a clear way of what it is all about.



Junior Poster
Feb 10, 2017
in 1973 at 13 yrs old i was gifted a 29 gallon tank somehow by my spread to thin mother. i set it up and was consumed by the peaceful alternate universe that was nothing like the chaos of mine and my eight siblings crowded unprivate world. i read a small pamphlet on the "nitrogen cycle" and its circular logic clicked for me. its simple beauty of patient balance resonated with my own need to realize acceptance and order... but i couldn't keep my damn hands out of the tank and everytime my eel went under the gravel i grew impatient and dug him out (Life is paradox and Balance is and endless journey). There was no tank for 15 years after my teen initiation. Then i did a Discus tank for several years and then saltwater for several more with much enthusiasm while living in Brooklyn in the eighties. As a new young family i/we moved out to the suburbs and i dropped the hobby with just an easy freshwater arrangement here and there as raising children and staying healthy leaves little room for extra indulgences (i'm broke as a way-of-life too). Last winter at 55 i set up my first planted aquarium (38 gallon). it has turned a year old and i have learned so much that is new, and also i've been endlessly reminded of the universal truth: "it's always all about water quality". i still struggle to keep my damn hands out of the tank... but i'm pretty sure it's good to be back. Hello all on my first post. ps i am brilliantly inept on the computer and with technology!