Can you imagine seeing any of these at your local pool or beach?
1. U.S. 885212: Life-Preserver and Swimming Machine, 1910
In 1907, Modesto, California residents W.H. Young and O.B. Lyon had what they thought was a brilliant idea for a new device: A combination life preserver/swimming machine, which could be used both for recreation or "in a case of necessity, whereby in cases of accident or ship wreck the survivors may get safely away from the vessel and propel themselves to a place of safety." Their patent was granted in 1910.
Here's how Young and Lyon imagined it would work: An airtight compartment, equipped with a keel, would be strapped around a person's torso. The keel would be connected to "a driving screw propelling mechanism adapted to be operated by the manual force of the wearer." The inventors also suggested making the airtight compartment several compartments, so that if one was punctured, the person could still stay afloat.
2. U.S. 3133522: Swimming Apparatus, 1964
Inventor Aristide Nicolaie created this device that "when attached to the wearer and used by him in bathing will enable the wearer to travel at a relatively high rate of speed through the water whether or not the wearer can swim."
To use the machine, the wearer slips into a flexible harness that is connected on one end to a tubular frame; a flexible shaft extends through the frame to the pedals. A second frame, spaced away from the tubular frame, is connected to the harness. There is also "a propeller rotatably supported in the second frame, and the propeller being connected to the end of the shaft opposite from the pedals and rotated by such shaft when the pedals are rotated, the second frame and the propeller being movable relative to the tubular frame by movement of the body of a swimmer for steering." The patent was granted in 1964.
3. U.S. 1732679: Aquatic vehicle, 1929
Emil Haby filed the patent for this device in 1928. The device, he wrote in the patent, "aims to provide a novel, simple and useful device whereby travelling may be expedited on water and wherein an individual may move front place to place upon a body of water without requiring the services of a motor or other character of boat. A vehicle of this character will prove to highly amusing to bathers as well as useful to those actually desiring to travel from one place to another upon a body of water." The patent was granted in 1929.
4. U.S. 243834: Swimming Apparatus, 1881
This "swimming apparatus," invented by William Beeson "of Dillon, in the county of Beaver Head and Territory of Montana," was "in the nature of a detachable suit provided with pockets or receptacles for the body and limbs, and having between the pockets for the limbs a web portion, which acts like wings or fins, which, from the movement of the legs and arms, effect a propulsion through the water." The suit looks more like something you'd see on a skydiver than a swimmer. Of course, when Beeson patented it in 1881, nobody was flying but the birds.
5. U.S. 964886: Device for Teaching Swimming, 1910
Forget arm floaties: Charles G. Sickels, resident of Santa Cruz, California, had a better way to teach kids to swim, and it involves a torture chamber. This device, patented in 1910, was "designed for the purpose of teaching one the strokes and movements necessary for one to swim with ease ... to be used on land and not in the water by which one acquires a habit of not only making the right strokes but also of making the right combination of strokes." The would-be swimmer lays on a base—his face sticking through, as though he were on a spa's massage table—and cables are attached to his wrists and ankles. The right wrist cable passes over pulleys to the left ankle, and vice versa. "By this arrangement it will be seen that when he makes outward horizontal stroke with his right arm the operation of the cable L2 draws his left foot downward," Sickels writes. "Likewise when his left arm operates a downward movement of the right leg is effected. Also when the arms are operated simultaneously the legs are also moved downwardly." Sounds fun!