What are Swimming Flippers?

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  • Written By: Laura Evans
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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Swimming flippers are used in bodysurfing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. In addition, swim fins can be used as part of an exercise program in swimming pools. Flippers propel the body through the water at a higher speed than feet, increase the flexibility of ankles, and help develop the strength of the muscles in the legs.

Perhaps the earliest European to consider swim flippers was Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519). Da Vinci was a genius who painted masterpieces such as Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. This artist and architect was also a prolific inventor, coming up battle tanks, submarines, and flying machines. Buried in his works are early renditions of swimming flippers.

Italian Giovanni Alphonso Borelli (1608-1679) was the next person to toy with swim fins. Borelli was a mathematician and physicist. His most famous work, The Movement of Animals, was published after his death. History also remembers Borelli as the first to consider the possibility of individuals swimming in the water using a "rebreather," allowing for the swimmers to stay underwater for prolonged periods of time.

American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) loved to swim. When he was a boy, Franklin developed paddles for the feet made out of wood. In addition, Franklin created hand paddles, which he said made his wrists tired.


French naval commander Louis de Corlier was also an inventor. He designed the first rubber flippers in the 1930s. These flippers had been patented in eight countries by 1933. De Corlier designed these flippers to be life-saving equipment. In fact, he called them "life saving propellers."

Yachtsman Owen Churchill (1896-1985) was a gold medalist for eight-meter yacht race in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. During the 1930s, Churchill made a trip to Tahiti where he watched Tahitians make primitive swimming flippers. After Churchill bought De Corlier's patent rights, Churchill improved De Corlier’s design and produced “new" swimming flippers. Churchill opened his own company in 1938, which was named Churchill Swim Fins. His fins caught on with the United States Navy during World War II.

Today, swimming flippers are available in a variety of colors, materials, and designs. People use swimming fins for exercising or to pursue their favorite water sports. Fins continue to be an essential component of water rescue equipment. Early swimming flipper inventors would be amazed at how their ideas have evolved over time and at the variety of activities for which people use flippers.


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