Fun Fact Friday: The History of Snorkeling

Da Vinci

I’ve had the pleasure on going on some pretty great snorkeling trips. There is something so overwhelmingly cool about being in the water and feeling like you’re part of a different environment, which you are when you’re swimming around the coral among schools of fish. Indeed, being in the water and wanting to be like fish has been around for as long as those who looked in the air and wanted to fly with the birds. That said, let’s take a look at snorkeling’s oldest predecessors in today’s edition of fun fact Friday: the history of snorkeling!

  • 3000 B.C.: Skin divers off the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea use hollow reeds to allow them to breathe while they collect sponges underwater. This was about as basic as it got. Side note: the idea of opening your eyes sea water does not sound appealing.
  • 900 B.C.: In Assyria, divers begin using animal skins filled with air as an oxygen supply during their dives.
  • 500 B.C.: Greeks used hollow reeds to remain unobserved in the water so that the Persians could not spot them. It allowed one soldier to swim amongst the Persian fleet and cut them free of their moorings to avoid an attack using only a reed to breathe and ended up swimming nine miles to rejoin the Greek army.
  • 300 B.C.: Alexander the Great encourages development of the diving bell which trapped a pocket of air for divers to replenish their air supply while underwater.

diving bell

  • Aristotle writes about diving bells, saying “…they enable the divers to respire equally well by letting down a cauldron, for this does not fill with water, but retains the air, for it is forced straight down into the water.” In his other writings, “Parts of the Animals” in particular, he mentions divers using a tube connected to the surface or the precursor to the snorkel. He remarks how it works like the trunk of an elephant.
  • 1300 : Persian divers were making eye goggles from tortoise shells. They would slice the shell thin enough to make it translucent and then polish it for optimum visibility.
  • 1400: Leonardo da Vinci made the first mention of air tanks in Italy. He also had proposed inventions that included diving tubes leading to floats containing air on the surface of the water all the way to a completely self-contained diving suit. Da Vinci was worried someone would use his diving inventions to sink ships or even commit murders.
  • He also came up with a design for webbed swimming gloves.
  • 1531: Guglielmo de Lorena completes a shipwreck dive using a diving bell designed by Da Vinci.
  • 1538: Two Greeks performed a demonstration in the Tagus river using a large kettle that involved emerging out of the water with dry clothes and a lit candle.
  • The diving bell technology was greatly limited and people began developing things that allow swimmers to breathe from the surface. For the diving world, people realized that diving systems were limited due to water pressure.
  • 1717: Benjamin Franklin came up with an idea to help swimmers move faster through the water: wooden paddles that attached to the hands and feet.
  • 1771: The invention of the air pump by John Smeaten, British engineer, expands the world of diving. Inventors realized that the air pump along with pressurized tubes allowed divers to go to much greater depths than thought possible.
  • 1912: Modern fins are invented by Frenchman Louis de Corlieu. He demonstrated his invention for the French Navy. He would obtain a patent in 1933.

swim fins

  • 1930: Guy Gilpatric starts swim diving with waterproof goggles based on the design of swimming goggles invented by Maurice Fernez in 1920.
  • Modern era: the development of rubber and plastic made it possible to create masks that would fit properly and not leak water. Materials are constantly being developed that are increasingly resistant to the ocean water and to see underwater better.

Pretty cool, huh? Crazy to think thousands of years went into the creation of such a hobby most people don't think twice about. Which development do you think was the most important in the creation of snorkeling?

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