With our new collection of pool floaties, I started thinking about when the floatie first came into existence. Things that are hollow and float? Well, various things come to mind—- the inflatable raft, zeppelins, wine skins, casks…etc. Just to be clear, this post is going to be a random agglomeration of very superficial research I have made on the origins of the pool floatie- if it sounds interesting, read on!
Certainly the pool floatie we know today relies upon modern plastics, specifically welded plastic films like pvc, but the first instances were in vulcanized rubber. However, in thinking about what the origins of the pool floatie could be, I first thought of buoys.
Buoys, or anchored floats used as navigational marks, have been in use for centuries. These may have been in the form of a chunks of wood or rafts, anchored to the sea bed via rope and rock to point out navigational hazards. The earliest references to these are found in an Italian navigational manual in 1295.(source) Later buoys became hollow, and barrel and cask makers began to innovate in the space.
(Cask buoy from 1425: source )
Other products that came to mind were personal floatation devices. Apparently the earliest floatation devices were inflated bladders, animal skins, or hollow, sealed gourds that were used for support when crossing rivers. In 1802, a proposal was made to the Royal Navy to distribute a life jacket: “a strong canvas bags of dimensions, when filled with cork shavings, equal to about that of a bed bolster, coiled in a manner like a collar, and sufficiently wide for the head and shoulders to pass through.” (source). The early life jacket was available in catalogs as early as 1804.
In terms of artistic portrayals of personal floatation, the earliest I could think of is The Nascita di Venere by Sandro Botticelli, sometime around 1480. In it the Venus is shown floating on a clamshell.
(Sandro Botticelli, La Nascita Di Venere: source)
I’d like to think it has been an inspiration to certain floaties you can find today.
Following the process of vulcanization of rubber by Charles Goodyear in 1838 (patent granted in 1844), the first inflatable rubber pontoons and rafts came into existence. Apparently, an early mention of the rubber raft comes from the John Fremont’s expeditions along the Oregon Trail in 1842-3. He describes, “Among the useful things which formed a portion of our equipage, was an India-rubber boat, 18 feet long, made somewhat in the form of a bark canoe of the northern lakes. The sides were formed by two airtight cylinders, eighteen inches in diameter, connected with others forming the bow and stern. To lessen the danger of accidents to the boat, these were divided into four different compartments, and the interior was sufficiently large to contain five or six persons, and a considerable weight of baggage.”(source)
The first patent for an inflatable life preserver was in 1924, by Peter Markus, and was made of rubber. It was nicknamed Mae West, as revealed by the Oxford English Dictionary, “The curvaceous actress is giving permission, she revealed, for the following definition to appear opposite her name: ‘A device used by R.A.F. aviators to keep afloat a person in the water. Derived from the American cinema actress whose appearance has suggested the rotund nature of these inflatable life-belts.” (source)
Markus cancelled his patent rights during wartime so that the government could make the life vest royalty free, helping save countless lives. Sorry to editorialize, but it smarts to think of this type of valor in the face of companies like Gilead who want to charge $3K per patient for a treatment that the US taxpayer spent over $70M funding. (source)
The first patent I could find on Google Patents for an inflatable pool floatie like device was Antonino Assenzio’s Buoyant Chair (US1562276) from 1925:
Assenzio’s invention was preceded by American Balsa Company’s “Float Device” (US1465790A) in 1919, but said invention was made of balsa wood, and not inflatable.
However, I found the first reference to a decorative pool float in Revere Rubber Co’s Water Toy (US1851768) from 1930, which made reference to Swans, Ducks, Camels, Horses and other such animals. The innovation, however, was not purely decorative, but in the way the floatie would stabilize to remain upright.
The largest inflatable air-mattress ever made was made by Li-Lo, a British company who was the first to trademark and manufacture a rubber and canvas inflatable air mattress in the 1940s. It measures 73.95 square meters.
And who can forget the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck floating sculptures? These temporary art pieces have been constructed and deployed in cities such as Hong Kong, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Sydney, Beijing, and Osaka. The largest rubber duck, made in Saint-Nazaire, France, was 85 ft x 66 ft x 105 ft.
Since this post isn’t really going to come to any conclusions, I think I’ll just end with a gallery of some of the most outrageous pool floaties I’ve come across. We’ve pinned some on our new Pinterest page, too!
I hope everyone is keeping afloat and enjoying the summertime.
Whoopie Cushion Float
Chocolate Pretzel Float
The Colonel Sanders Floatie!!!
Bacon and Eggs Floatie
Bull Ride Floatie
French Fries Floatie
Enormous Rainbow Unicorn Floatie
...and so many more (ranch dressing floatie?) Do you have a cool floatie? Let us know. xo, e.