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When Were Swimming Goggles Invented? History of Swim Goggles

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The history of swimming goggles can actually be traced back all the way to the 14th century in a book called Man Under The Sea. However, goggles were not used for competitive swimming until the 20th century in 1911. Since then, swimming goggles have become the norm for swimming purposes.

Keep reading to learn more about how swimming goggles have made their way into history.

A Brief History of Swimming Goggles

The history of swimming goggles is simultaneously long and hazy. Though there are definite records of goggles being used for swimming purposes way back when, the modern notion of swimming goggles is new. Here’s a look at the history of swimming goggles:

Earliest Records

The earliest record we have of swimming goggles is from the 14th century. In a book titled Man Under The Sea, author James Dugan describes the book’s famous traveler as putting on a “sort of tortoise-shell mask,” which can be read as a form of goggles. The reason for this interpretation is that sea turtle shells were often polished so that they were nearly transparent and used by Polynesian divers at the time.

Oddly enough, there aren’t any more references to swimming goggles until the 16th century. During this time, tortoiseshell goggles were used by Venetian coral divers. More than likely, these goggles were imported from Persia to Mediterranean countries.

Swimming Goggle
Image By: dimitrisvetsikas1969, Pixabay

Early Appearances

Once again, there’s sort of a gap in the history of swimming goggles. By the 18th century, special wood and bamboo frames were used without lenses to trap air whenever the diver looked down. Eventually, the Polynesians introduced glass into these designs.

Swimming Goggles Are Used for Competition Purposes

By the 20th century, formal goggles were being used for motorcycling, aviation, and even competitive swimming. It is believed that Thomas “Bill” Burgess was the first competitive swimmer to use goggles. His goggles were actually motorcycle goggles, meaning they weren’t completely waterproof, but they helped to protect his eyes while swimming.

By 1926, Gertrude Ederle waterproofed motorcycle goggles using paraffin wax for swimming purposes, kickstarting the DIY craze around swimming goggles at the time. From there, swimming goggles exploded in popularity, but it wasn’t until 1968 that manufacturers started selling modern swimming goggles for pool use.

Shortly after the commercialization of swimming goggles, professional swimmers competed with them. By 1976, even the Olympic games had approved their use. The rest is history!

Who Invented the First Goggles?

Various forms of goggles have been around for centuries. So, it’s impossible to say who invented the first goggles. However, we can definitively say who made the first modern swimming goggles that we think of today. Most people cite Thomas Godfrey as the modern inventor.

Thomas Godfrey created polycarbonate plastic goggles that were thin, light, and durable. They sold them to both regular swimmers and professional ones.

First Goggles
Image By: Counselling, Pixabay

What Were the First Swim Goggles Made Out Of?

Swim goggles were originally just motorcycle goggles. Thomas Burgess actually swam across channels wearing motorcycle goggles to help protect his eyes. Decades later, people were still using motorcycle goggles, but they were using paraffin wax to waterproof them to some degree.

It wasn’t until after World War II that swim goggles were being manufactured from polycarbonate plastic. In fact, it wasn’t until 1968 that this happened. Today, most swim goggles are still made from polycarbonate plastic and other similar materials.

When Did Olympic Swimmers Start Wearing Goggles?

Polycarbonate plastic goggles were first introduced to competitive swimming in 1972. In that year, David Wilkie of Scotland was the first competitive swimmer to wear both a cap and goggles while competing in the Commonwealth Games.

Just shortly after, Olympic swimmers started wearing goggles as well. By 1976, goggles were actually allowed to be worn at the Olympics, though many athletes used them to prepare for the 1972 Olympics as well.

Summing Up

Although there are references to swimming goggles all the way back to the 14th century, modern swimming goggles were not invented until 1968. The modern goggles are defined by polycarbonate, waterproof materials that are specifically used for swimming purposes.

Before the creation of the modern goggles, either no goggles were worn, or motorcycle goggles were selected. In either case, these makeshift swimming goggles are nothing in comparison to the goggles we see today.

So, next time you go swimming, definitely appreciate the goggles you have. They truly are recent inventions that protect your eyes and make the swimming experience more comfortable.

Featured Image Credit: ulleo, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.