Who Invented the First Swim Fins? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Swimming has always been a source of fun. Kids are always looking forward to a fun beach day or a quick pool trip. But swimming is more than just a summer activity. Some consider it a competitive sport, while others may look at it as a form of meditation or exercise. No matter the reasons, people surely want to make the most out of their trips in the water.

Several inventions make people more at ease in the water. One of these inventions is the swim fins. This equipment allowed humans to swim faster and move easily in the water. Swim fins opened many opportunities for swimmers and scholars to explore. Let’s take a look back and dive into the interesting story of the invention of swim fins. 

Who invented the first swim fins?

The first working concept of swim fins was the brilliant idea of a very young swimmer named Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin, at the age of 11, wanted to swim faster, so he patterned the first swim fins to a frog’s webbed feet. The modern swim fin’s design was the work of Louis de Corlieu.

The swim fins’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock
    The Vulcanization Process

    In ancient times, people of Central America extracted latex from rubber trees. This method inspired Goodyear and Hancock to develop a process called vulcanization that makes rubber more potent and durable.

  • Leonardo Da Vinci
    Improve Human Physical Condition

    Leonardo Da Vinci was particularly interested in making people fly. Still, after many failed attempts, he argued that swimming is the closest thing humans can achieve. He sketched the first design for swim fins (worn in the hands) to make navigating water more accessible.

  • Benjamin Franklin
    Same with Frogs

    Benjamin Franklin was 11 years old when he invented a swimming garment to swim faster when he noticed the frogs and imitated their webbed feet. He used two pieces of wooden oval and attached them to his hands to make his thrusts more forceful. His design was not so effective for his feet.

  • Louis de Corlieu,
    The Swimming Propellers

    Louis de Corlieu, held the position of Lieutenant Commander in the French Navy. He was the first person to demonstrate the effectiveness of his design by swimming in the ocean for six hours, covering a distance of 8 kilometers. He originally called his design “swimming propellers.”

  • Owen P. Churchill
    Rubber Fins to Swim Fins

    Owen Churchill improved Corlieu’s version. He was inspired by the Tahitian boys who made their pairs of rubber fins using metal bands and rubbers. Churchill used vulcanized rubber instead. He then patented the design, called it “swim fins,” and sold thousands of pairs in different colors.

When were the first swim fins invented?

Benjamin Franklin invented the first working pair of swim fins in 1717. Louis Corlieu created the modern design of rubber fins in 1912. The person who patented the improved modern design of swim fins was Owen Churchill in 1940.

A brief history of swim fins

Humans have always been fascinated by imitating animals. There were countless attempts of humans to fly like birds or swim like fish. Leonardo Da Vinci was particularly interested in improving human physical condition to explore different domes (sky and water). He sketched the first device that could help mankind in investigating the water, the swim fin. There was no evidence to claim that Da Vinci succeeded in making one, but sketches of the idea were found in his belongings.

The first recorded person to successfully make a swim fin was Benjamin Franklin. He created swim fins from wooden planks. He attached these fins to his hands to make paddling easier and swimming faster. However, even though they were helpful, he noticed that his swim fins were hurting and putting too much pressure on his wrists. He then tried to attach them to his feet but failed to achieve his desired outcome.

In 1914, Louis Corlieu spent a lot of time and effort developing a similar device to Benjamin’s. He successfully created rubber fins worn on feet instead of hands and made of rubber instead of wood. Owen Churchill improved his design in 1940. Churchill used lighter and colored rubbers to make the swim fins easier to use and more appealing. 

In 1948, Luigi Ferraro found one major flaw in Churchill’s design. He was looking for a way to replace the swim fins’ strapping device since it can be a hassle for swimmers. Ferraro wanted to make the swim fins slip on, like shoes, to make it safer for divers and swimmers. He worked with Cressi-Sub to make his vision possible.

Since then, there have been no drastic changes in the swim fins’ design and function. It has become one of the essential pieces of equipment for divers and swimmers. 

The swim fins timeline

  1. 15th Century
    The First Sketch

    The great inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, sketched the first known design for swim fins. His idea of a swim fin was made of wood shaped like a paint pallet. The original sketch was considered a breakthrough in the field of water hydraulics during da Vinci’s time. 

  2. 1717
    The Invention of the First Swim Fins

    Leonardo da Vinci failed to execute his idea because he had no access to the needed materials. Benjamin Franklin wanted to swim faster and move in the water with ease. So (at the young age of 11!), he used da Vinci’s concept to make swim fins. 

  3. 1914
    The First Rubber Fins

    In 1914, Louis Corlieu, a naval officer, improved Franklin’s design by using rubber instead of wood. He tested his invention, which he called Swimming Propellers, in front of an audience by swimming around a total distance of eight kilometers.

  4. 1940
    The Creation of Modern Swim Fins

    In 1940, the modern design for swim fins was created by Owen Churchill. He improved Corlieu’s swimming propellers by using lighter rubber. His design was easier and safer to use, gaining the trust of many investors. The US Navy was impressed by his creation and decided to use it officially. 

  5. 1948
    The First Full-Foot Style Swim Fins

    The previous methods of swim fins used some sort of garment or strap to keep them in place. In 1948, Luigi Ferraro designed the first shoe-style swim fins. This design satisfied swim fins’ manufacturers and users since there have been no drastic changes in its design. 

Where were the first swim fins invented?

Benjamin Franklin made the first recorded pair of swim fins in Boston, Massachusetts. While Louis de Corlieu made the first swim fins that followed the modern design while in the French Navy.

The importance of swim fins

  • Swim fins to develop swimming technique

    The invention of swim fins opened various doors for swimmers to improve their swimming techniques. Aside from helping them swim faster, swim fins are also a big help in correcting a swimmer’s posture.

  • Crank up cardiovascular conditions

    More intense and modulated workout is better for a person’s cardiovascular condition. Activities such as swimming and diving are good sources of cardiovascular exercise. Adding swim fins makes things more challenging and, therefore, more beneficial.

  • Make ankles flexible.

    Ankle flexibility is an essential skill for swimmers. They need it to increase propulsion and water resistance. Beginners find wearing fins in the water help in achieving their desired ankle flexibility. It is also helpful for returning athletes.

  • Lessen shoulder stress

    Swimming requires you to do repetitive strokes, which can burden your shoulders in the long run. Too much muscle strain can cause severe pain and complications. Swim fins help reduce the impact or pressure on your shoulders.

The swim fins by the numbers

  • $4The first swim fins, which Owen Churchill designed, cost $4 per pair. 
  • 3There are three categories of swim fins to choose from – short blade, medium blade, and long blade.
  • 30-40 %Wearing fins can help swimmers increase their speed up to 30-40%.
  • 1939Louis Corlieu started the mass production of his invention, the swimming propellers, in France.

Five facts about the swim fins

  • Swim fins and their nicknames

    The swim fins have several nicknames. First, they were called rubber fins and swimming propellers by Louis Corlieu. Owen Churchill coined the term swim fins. Swimmers call them diving fins, flips, flippers, or propellers.

  • Not just for swimming

    Swim fins are not just beneficial for swimming. They also aid in water activities such as float-tube fishing, kneeboarding, bodyboarding, and bodysurfing. 

  • Based on animals

    Leonardo da Vinci came up with the idea of swim fins by observing the way ducks move in the water. While Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea as he watched the frogs swimming in the river.

  • You don’t need your arms to swim

    One of the amazing things about using fins underwater is that you don’t need to use your arms anymore! The right type of swim fins can help you control waves and currents. So, you can dive quietly and swim without flapping your arms.

  • Length matters

    Generally, swim fins are helpful for swimmers, divers, and water adventurers. However, size and length matter. Those who are aiming for stronger thrust must choose longer swim fins. While those who want fins that are easy to maneuver should use shorter swim fins.

FAQ about the swim fins

  • How do fins help in swimming?

    In general, swim fins are used by swimmers to improve their underwater techniques. Aside from increasing the wearer’s speed, swim fins also help improve the posture, ease the shoulders, make the ankles more flexible, and make floating easier.

  • Do fins make swimming easier?

    Absolutely. Wearing swim fins does not just make swimming easier. It also builds up your resistance, power, endurance, and strength. Recommended for beginners.

  • Should beginner swimmers use fins?

    Yes. Swim fins can help beginners develop proper posture and kicking techniques. Even advanced swimmers can benefit from wearing swim fins.

  • How to determine swim fin size?

    Choosing the right size can be tricky. It is best to visit a physical store so you can try them on. However, if you are ordering online, it is safe to base it on your regular shoe size.

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