Friday, November 17, 2006

Who Invented the Wetsuit?

So there I was this afternoon, out sailing my Laser on the lake opposite my home, just chilling out and enjoying a sunny fall afternoon, looking at the patterns of the clouds and the gusts on the water, and contemplating the great mysteries of the universe such as if intelligent design is correct who designed the designer, and why does starboard have right of way over port, and is dark energy the same thing as the cosmological constant, and why am I the only person dumb enough to be out sailing on this lake this afternoon? And then the big big question struck me between the eyes...

Who invented the wetsuit? Yeah. Who first thought of wrapping his body in synthetic spongy rubber so he could immerse himself in freezing cold water for pleasure? Because I owe him a big thank you for making this glorious afternoon of sailing and contemplation possible.

So I sailed back to the dock, packed up my Laser, hauled it back to the house, rushed upstairs to my computer dripping lake water all over the carpet, and excitedly clutched the mouse with soggy hand and heavy anticipation. Wikipedia will have the answer, right?

Well apparently not. Who invented the wetsuit is one of those mysteries lost in the mists of time just like what caused the Cambrian explosion and is Geronimo's skull really used in weird fraternity rituals at Yale University?

Here's what Wikipedia has to say...

It is difficult to credit a single individual for the creation of the modern wetsuit. In 1951, while working for the US Navy, Hugh Bradner had the insight that a thin layer of trapped water could act as an insulator. It was a colleague of Bradner who suggested neoprene as a feasible material. However, Bradner was not overly interested in profiting from his design and never marketed a version to the public; nor did he patent his design. The first written documentation of Bradner's invention was in a letter dated June 21, 1951.

Traditionally, most say it was Jack O'Neill (businessman) who invented the wetsuit and started using neoprene, which he found lining the floor of an airliner. However, this is disputed by some aviation experts because neoprene and other rubbers are not fire retardant; therefore, they would not be found on any passenger aircraft. More importantly, it was not Jack, but his brother, Robert, who created the first designs for the company they later founded. Robert and Jack O'Neill went on to found the successful wetsuit manufacturing company called O'Neill. But Bob and Bill Meistrell, from Manhattan Beach, California claim to have started experimenting with neoprene around 1953. Their company would later be named Body Glove.

So now you know.


AdriftAtSea said...

Just wait Tillerman... someone will find the information you're looking for and post it to Wikipedia this winter. :D

Tim said...

Why does port give way to starboard?
Here is a possible explanation.
Think about the names. Starboard was the side of the boat that the 'Steer board' was located. Port was the side that the ship moored against (to avoid fouling the Steer board presumambly).
Hence the helmsman would be standing on the Starboard side of the boat to steer and his view to Port would be blocked by the rigging. Thus logically the helmsman on the port tack boat would have a clear view of an starboard tack boat and thus the onus should be on him to keep clear.
What do you think? Does it make sense?

Tillerman said...

A likely story!

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