To swim underwater easily, the human eye needs a little bit of protection. Although sight can be achieved underwater, the pressures and liquid can be quite bothersome and do not allow for prolonged exposure. That’s where swimming goggles come in because they allow for eyesight protection during dives, in chlorinated swimming pools, and in virtually any other water environment.
The actual invention of swimming goggles goes back to the 14th century. There are documented cases of Persians who were pearl divers that would use goggles that were made from polished tortoise shells. They were used for about two centuries and then disappeared for quite some time. The modern swimming goggles are believed to have been invented by the Polynesians, who added glass lenses to wooden frames.
The first patent for swimming goggles, however, goes to C.P. Troppman, who was awarded the patent in 1916. He claimed that they could be used for underwater swimming, but there is no evidence that they were ever used for this.
What About Thomas Burgess?
In 1911, Tomas Burgess decided that he should swim across the English Channel. It had been done before, but only by one person. He was a competitive swimmer and so he wanted to add this accomplishment to his achievements. He used the breaststroke for the entire swim and wore motorcycle goggles during the trip to protect his eyes from the salt water.
15 years later, Gertrude Ederle made her attempt to become the first woman to swim across the English Channel. She wore motorcycle goggles as well to protect her eyes, but her sister Margaret improved them by sealing the edges of the goggles with paraffin wax so that they would become water tight.
It wasn’t until 1936 that swimming goggles were specifically patented to be used as an underwater eye protector. The patent was awarded to Walter Farrell, but they were so unpopular that Popular Science printed plans for swimming goggles 4 years later that were based on the old wooden designs by the Polynesians. Double lens goggles with rubber seals were used for the next two decades by open water swimmers, but that was the extent of the use of swimming goggles.
The First Marketing Push Came in 1968
It took another 20 years for the first real practical swimming goggles to hit the market. Even these weren’t very good because they were a one-size-fits-all type of product, so they didn’t fit everyone. They were uncomfortable to wear and wouldn’t always stay on during a turn. For two years, they were considered training devices too, which meant they were banned from competition. David Wilkie became the first competitive swimmer to use goggles and now virtually every swimmer wears them.
Thanks to their invention, swimmers no longer need to use eye wash or keep their eyes closed during a swim. That brings about a higher level of safety and that ultimately means a better overall swimming experience for all.