Swimming Goggles | An Obscure and Intriguing History

by | Feb 12, 2022 | Swimming, Swimming and Calisthenics | 0 comments

Swimming goggles have evolved over time to respond to necessity, innovations in material and design, and shifting protective requirements.

Discover the weird and wonderful ways in which creative people have perfected eyewear for each different kind of underwater activity over time!

How The Swimming Goggles Found Their Way to The Swimmers?

14th Century Persia gave birth to the first known swimming goggles. These were made for pearl divers venturing into the water on expeditions to find these shiny treasures.

Made from polished tortoiseshell, these near-transparent goggles permitted divers to stay in the water for longer without getting sore eyes. Although this tortoiseshell variety was widespread in the Middle East, they didn’t meet the same enthusiasm in Europe.

Although some sources suggest that they were imported into the Mediterranean (illustrations of Venetian coral divers wearing goggles popped up in the 16th century).


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Swimming Goggles of the Divers of Polynesia

Meanwhile, divers in Polynesia entered the water with a different version of goggles. These had deep wooden or bamboo frames without lenses which instead trapped air in a bubble over the eye to encourage visibility. However, these had a few design flaws (e.g. they were not fully waterproof and could only be used in a downwards diving position, or else the trapped air escaped).

Europe Added the Glass!

Later, glass from Europe was incorporated into this Polynesian design. Although glass went some way to improving the design, there were still problems: the lenses were not always secure and fell out when flipping or diving.

It was only in the 20th century that truly functional, practical, and comfortable goggles boomed in popularity. Thomas ‘Bill’ Burgess was the first known swimmer to wear leaky motorcycle goggles to swim across the English Channel in 1911.

Following in his footsteps (or swim-steps?), Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to cross the English Channel wearing an improvised version of the motorcycle goggles sealed with paraffin to prevent seawater leaks.

Motorcycle goggles did a fairly good job at keeping out seawater, but swimmers clearly needed something better adapted to their sport!

Swimming goggles<br />

The First Patent

In 1916, the first underwater swimming goggle design was patented by C.P. Troppman, although his design didn’t take off. Later in the 1930s, as scuba diving became more popular as a sport, massive advances were made in mask and goggles designs.

Goggles Suitable for Competitive Open Water Swimming Emerged

More patents and designs flourished over the 1940s, although it wasn’t until the 1950s that goggles suitable for competitive open water swimming emerged. Florence Chadwick, an American long-distance open water, wore large double-lens rubber goggles while swimming the English Channel in the 1950s, setting a new record while wearing them.

However, goggles still weren’t being used in the pool… The next decade – the swinging 60s – saw several big revolutions, including one in the swimming goggle world! Advertisements for standard, one-size-fits-all swimming goggles began appearing in publications such as Swimming World magazine.

Gertrude Ederle

The Revolution – Godfrey Goggles 

However, again, these didn’t really catch on since some swimmers found them uncomfortable. Plus, goggles were seen more as a training tool and competitive swimmers weren’t allowed to use them in races or competitions. In 1969, Tony Godfrey brought out his “Godfrey Goggles”. These were polycarbonate (a type of thermoplastic) versions of goggles that were light, thin, shatter-resistant, and hard-wearing.

The revolution in swimming goggles had begun!

In 1972, Scotland’s David Willkie achieved success as a first Olympian winning a Bronze Medal wearing swim goggles and hat… and this triggered mass popularity for the item!

Swimming Goggles | An Obscure and Intriguing History

The Modren Goggles

In the 21st century, goggles have become a standard piece of swimming equipment. Goggles now have advanced features built around hydrodynamics, UV ray impact, and fog-like conditions in the water.

Innovations in technology have led to a dizzying variety of swimming goggles: if you want something particularly ergonomic, stretchy, versatile, shatter-proof or high-quality visibility swim goggles, you can find it!

Different Types of Goggles


Swim goggles typically consist of lenses, a gasket, straps, and a protective case. The lenses enhance underwater visibility and can be optical grade, available in clear, tinted, or mirrored options. Tinted and mirrored lenses offer UVA and UVB protection, ideal for outdoor pool enthusiasts. Gasket choices prioritize comfort; foam is comfortable but less durable than silicone or rubber. Straps can be silicone or rubber.

Choosing the Right Strap Style is Essential.

Bungee straps, popular for their adjustability and secure fit, are favored by many swimmers. Upgrading to them is common for dive-ready stability, though they may be more costly. Some goggles feature double or split straps for added security. Keep in mind, not all split straps are equal; those with larger splits stay in place better than those with smaller ones.

To ensure the longevity of your swim goggles, they often come with a soft or hard-sided polyester case. Safely storing your goggles in the case when not in use is a wise practice to protect them from scratches.

The Swimming Goggles led to Safety Goggles too

Safety goggles for workers debuted in the 19th century, although they only became widespread in the 20th century. These goggles are worn by individuals using power tools, blowtorches, and miners.

In the case of welding, goggles serve as essential protection against debris, heat, and radiation. Initially developed during World War I, safety glasses were primarily intended to safeguard laboratory workers from chemical hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates the use of safety goggles in specific work settings in the United States.

Today goggles have become an essential part of swimming gear. The seas and oceans are littered with waste and debris and the pools have chemicals so your eyes need more protection than ever.

Swimming has never been better and more enjoyable! And who knows where the innovation will end… Some people are even in the process of designing AI swimming goggles which let you see your metrics in front of you in real-time, or which could even let you see and swim with virtual sharks and fish in your swimming pool! How awesome would that be?! Watch this space…!


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