21 JunA Brief History of Armbands

The evolution of armbands for swimming


Cast your mind back to your formative years. Remember when you started school swimming lessons. There’s every chance you made your first strokes with a rubber ring, armbands, or a float (cork or polystyrene). At some swimming pools, you may have held onto the swimming instructor’s long wooden stick to complete your length.

For many people, a pair of armbands remind them of a first trip to the public baths. The earliest examples were made in 1907 by Dean and Son., better known for publishing hardback books on building toys and handicrafts. They were shaped like butterfly wings (which could be the likely source of the phrase ‘water wings’) and known as the Swimeesy Buoy. They were a popular form of floatation device till the arrival of inflatable equivalents.

1931 saw the arrival of inflatable armbands – or least some more akin to today’s variety. They were made with rubber and comprised of two parts, designed for the upper arms. They were tested on a Los Angeles beach.

The biggest change came in 1956, thanks to the inventor’s daughter nearly drowning in his goldfish pond. Thanks to a lottery win, Bernhard Markwitz used the winnings (253,000 DM) as startup capital. In 1964, his design was fully realised and the company he formed was BEMA. The company name forms the first two letters of his first name and his surname.

Today, his basic design form the part of many armbands. Other companies like Floaties and Speedo owe a debt to BEMA’s innovative design.

Swim and Leisure Supplies, 21 June 2017.

Image Credit: the swimming design classic of a pair of dayglo orange inflatable armbands. Image by ConstantinosZ (via Shutterstock).

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