Who Invented Pool Noodles? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Pool noodles, those long and colorful foam tubes that children and adults bring to swimming pools have become so popular that several manufacturers developed them in various lengths and dimensions, to suit the needs of adults and children. Today, they are not only swimming aids, but also used as aquatherapy tools for seniors and people recovering from surgeries. Pool noodles are flexible, versatile, and sturdy, although they are not biodegradable. However, there are several ways to recycle them, as materials for arts and crafts, safety devices, and new toys. You can discover so many things about pool noodles, from how they started, who invented them, and the historical discoveries that led to the production of the raw material, right here.

Who invented the pool noodle?

Steve Hartman produced foam backers in 1980, and claimed that he was the inventor of pool noodles. Another Canadian, Richard Koster, also claimed to be the inventor, creating the same product as a swimming aid in 1986, They are now credited as the inventors of pool noodles, although they did not have a patent for their product. 

Pool noodle’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Steve Hartman
    Extruded polyethylene foam backer rods

    In 1980, Canadian Steve Hartman produced foam backer rods for industrial construction. The gray foam tubes were lightweight, waterproof, and floated in the water. Soon, his children were using them as water toys. He saw the opportunity and added color to the tubes, which Canadian Tire sold for a dollar each, starting the popularity of pool noodles.

  • Rick Koster
    Swimming aid

    In 1986, Canadian Rick Koster, another Canadian, created polyethylene foam tubes for his children, who were competitive swimmers. He named the tubes Water Woogle, initially white, with taped multicolored stripes and dots and a foam head like a snake. He and Steve Hartman claimed to invent the pool noodles. They are now credited as inventors.

  • Canadian Tire
    Bulk order

    Steve Hartman added colors to the foam tubes, calling them FunNoodles. He did not try to sell them, concentrating on industrial foam backer rods. But Canadian Tire ordered some, selling them cheaply. Then, because of the demand, they ordered in bulk in 1987. By the 1990s, the popularity of pool noodles reached the U.S.

  • Armacell
    Leader in insulation foams

    Armacell is a leading manufacturer and supplier of flexible insulation materials and industrial foams in Luxembourg. It acquired Hartman’s Industrial Thermal Polymers Limited, based in Ontario, Canada, in 2015. The acquisition increases its manufacturing capacity, broadens its product offerings, and brings Hartman’s various products, including pool noodles and other water toys, into the international market.

  • Alcot Plastics Ltd.
    Manufacturing innovation

    Alcot Plastics Ltd. manufactures extruded polyethylene foam products in Canada. Company founder and owner John Alac devised a system to make manufacturing easier and faster with shorter start-up time and allowing the production of smaller batches for eight-hour shifts. Alcot also produces pool noodles in various sizes and colors and custom polyethylene foams in multiple designs.

When was the pool noodle invented?

Based on available information, the pool noodle was invented in 1983. In 1980, a Canadian company, Industrial Thermo Polymers Limited (ITP) was established. They intended to manufacture extruded polyethylene foam products, such as foam backers for the construction industry. Initially, since they were to be used for construction, they only came in gray color. 

A brief history of the pool noodle

The origin of the pool noodles was embroiled in some controversy. Two men, both from Ontario, claimed to be the inventor of the water toy. Steve Hartman’s company produced extruded foam tubes as backing rods that the construction industry used. His children used the foam tube water toys because they were waterproof and floated in the water. Hartman added colors to the foam tubes and tried to sell them to a swim shop but did not exert effort to market them as he focused on the company’s main product.

Canadian Tire bought some of the pool noodles and sold them cheaply. Soon, demand increased, and by 1987, Canadian Tire was buying pool noodles from Hartman in bulk.

Another person claiming to be the inventor of the pool noodle was Rick Koster. He created pool noodles for his sons to aid them in their training as competitive swimmers. He also gave his product a name, Water Woogle. However, he started production in 1986, three years after Hartman’s pool noodles.

Both are now recognized as the pool noodle inventors to settle the issue.

As the popularity of the pool noodles continued to increase, reaching markets outside Canada, more industrial foam tubing manufacturers branched into pool noodle manufacturing. Others specialized in it and other water toys, creating a new market sector.

Pool noodle timeline

  1. 1898
    Accidental discovery of polyethylene

    German chemist Hans von Pechmann investigated another chemical when he accidentally created a white, waxy substance. His colleagues, Eugen Bamberger and Friedrich Tschirmer, analyzed the material. They found that the material Pechmann made contained long chain organic compound, which they called polymethylene, a hydrocarbon that helped develop polyethylene or plastic.

  2. 1933
    Another accidental discovery

    Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson of UK’s Imperial Chemical Industries accidentally produced another white, waxy material when mixing benzaldehyde and ethyl under high pressure. Unfortunately, they could not reproduce the experiment because of the contamination of their apparatus with oxygen. But further experiments in 1935 and 1939 stabilized the compound.

  3. 1951
    Development of catalysts 

    Philips Petroleum developed the catalysts that led to the commercial production of polyethylene. It introduced the product under the brand name Marlex, which produced plastic tubing and toys like the hula-hoops. Later innovations made new polyethylene formulations and the production of various commercial and industrial tubing, from insulation materials to different toys, such as pool noodles.

  4. 1980s
    Official recognition

    The pool noodles became officially recognized as swimming noodles when manufacturers started adding colors. With their bright colors, they became more popular and accessible. Likewise, the price was affordable, making pool noodles one of the most versatile swimming equipment for consumers.

  5. 1980-1986
    Self-styled inventors

    Two men from Ontario claimed to be the inventor of the pool noodle. The first was Steve Hartman, who produced extruded polyethylene foam backer rods for industrial use. He later produced foam noodles in several colors. The other was Rick Koster, who made polyethylene foam tubes as swimming aids for his sons, who were competitive swimmers.

Where was the pool noodle invented?

There are two places in Ontario, Canada where the pool noodle was invented. Steve Hartman is from Mississauga, Ontario, while Rick Koster is from Oakville, Ontario. Steve Hartman made foam backer rods around 1980, which his children also used as water toys in their pool. Rick Koster made his version around 1986 as swimming aid. 

Why is the pool noodle important? 

  • Flotation device

    Pool noodles are helpful for someone learning to swim. They could also serve as a floating device during rescue searching. Moreover, you can use them when doing aquatic exercises and as a tool for various physical education games and activities in school.

  • Preventing door slamming

    An open door can slam when there is a strong wind, a person intentionally slams it, or children play with the door. To prevent the door from slamming and hands and fingers being caught by it, cut a short length of pool noodle, cut it lengthwise until the hole and slide it over the door’s edge.

  • Keep shoes in shape

    Pool noodles are perfect for keeping your shoes in shape. Cut them in the correct lengths to fit your shoes, and insert the foam noodles into your shoes to hold their shape. They are likewise practical for mid-leg and knee-high boots to protect the leg part from bending, creasing, cracking, or damaging the leather.

  • Therapy aid

    Use pool noodles for therapy for shoulder and ankle injuries. Fashion a three-foot-long writing tool with a six-inch PVC pipe handle for shoulder flexion. Cut the noodles in half, lay them on the floor cut side down so the patient can stand, walk, or run over them, depending on the ankle’s stage of recovery.

  • Trampoline spring cover

    If you have an old-style trampoline with exposed springs, you can cover them with pool noodles. Cut colorful pool noodles into the correct length, cut one side open up to the hole and place them over each spring. Trampoline users will not get hurt even if they walk, jump, or fall over the springs.

Pool noodle by the numbers

  • 0.88The average weight of a standard pool noodle is 0.88 pounds. Since there are several variations in terms of length and diameter, other pool noodles are heavier.
  • 1Canadian Tire stacked up on the pool noodles manufactured by Industrial Thermal Polymers and sold them for one dollar each. Soon, it became a best seller. 
  • 8Industrial Thermal Polymers, acquired by Armacell, sells around eight million pool noodles a year. The company claims that it covers more than half of the pool noodle market. 
  • 20-24The size of the hole in the center of a standard pool noodle is 22 to 24 millimeters. However, some manufacturers are now producing pool noodles without holes, which increased their buoyancy. 
  • 160The standard length of a pool noodle is 160 centimeters or 63 inches. The diameter of a standard pool noodle is seven centimeters, equivalent to 2.8 inches. 

Five facts about the pool noodle

  • Originated from industrial construction foam backer rods

    The idea for the pool noodles started from foam backer rods used in industrial construction. Steve Hartman and his father used to manufacture extruded polyethylene backer rods, which were gray, similar to cement. Because they were buoyant, his children started playing with them in their pool. Soon, they were making them in different colors.

  • Pools noodles have different names

    The pool noodle is the industry term for the classic flotation device. The term noodle came from the FunNoodle trademark of Jakks Pacific. Water Woogle came from the trademarked product of the same name produced by Koswelll Holdings. Serranoventions, a company in the U.S., used the term canoodle for their product – plastic noodles with connectors.

  • Similar to pipe insulators

    The lightweight and colorful pool noodles people love are similar to pipe insulation used in the construction industry. However, manufacturers of pipe insulators make them denser. Moreover, they add structural reinforcement to the outer layer of the insulators. They come in three colors: yellow for steam pipes, orange for condensate pipes, and blue for chilled water.

  • Pool noodles are versatile

    You can use it for crafts, as safety stoppers for doors, as a floating beverage boat, or as a water sprinkler for outdoor play. Moreover, you can cut them in half and use them as wrist support to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. You can make crutches softer by covering the armpit rests and handlebars with pool noodles.

  • Heat will melt pool noodles

    Pool noodles are not biodegradable, but you can reuse old pool noodles in many ways. Using electrical or duct tape instead of hot glue is better if you are using them for various things that need to join the pieces together. Heat will melt pool noodles, which can hurt you and ruin your project.

FAQs about pool noodle

  • Why is there a hole in pool noodles?

     Pool noodles have holes to make them cheaper to produce because they use less material. Moreover, since children were the first target market of pool noodles, hollow noodles are lighter and easier to carry. Likewise, they are more flexible and easier to wrap around their bodies.

  • Does a pool noodle absorb water?

    A pool noodle is a water toy that floats on water. They are lightweight, too. However, since manufacturers use polyethylene foam to make them, they do not absorb water. Polyethylene is a compound used in the production of plastic packaging products. The pool noodle uses the same material in packing foams, peanuts and chips, and more.

  • What material do they use to make pool noodles?

    Pool noodle manufacturers use polyethylene foam. Polyethylene is a closed-cell foam, similar to tiny bubbles pressed together, leaving no gaps. This property makes the material waterproof. Moreover, they are very light, so that they can float. The material is flexible but will bounce back and retain its shape when bent or compressed.  

  • Do all pool noodles have holes?

    Traditionally, pool noodles have holes because they are cheaper to make. However, other manufacturers made solid pool noodles, which are stronger and carry more weight in the water. The holes make it convenient to string several pool noodles to create pool dividers during a swim meet, or when constructing other toys that require several noodles.

  • How much weight does a pool noodle hold?

    Pool noodles are excellent swimming aids because they are buoyant. The classic version is suitable for children, as they can support weights of up to 200 pounds. However, because there are adults who want to learn how to swim and seniors who undergo aquatherapy, solid pool noodles in bigger dimensions can support about 300 pounds. 

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