Who Invented the Snorkel?

by Mihai Pinzariu on September 24, 2019

Ever wondered who was the first person to think of sticking a tube in their mouth so they could stay underwater? So have we, and what a tale it is. Let us take you back 5,000 years ago, to where it all began!

3,000 BC: Crete

The first evidence of snorkelling exists just off the coast of Crete – trust the Mediterraneans to be the first to head underwater. These people weren’t going snorkelling to look at all the pretty fish and plant life, though – they were looking for natural sponges. You couldn’t just get them from the supermarket in those days. What did they use for a snorkel tube? A hollow reed.

900 BC: Assyria

In the ancient civilisation of Assyria, there’s evidence of divers using animal skins filled with air – an old school version of the modern day diving cylinders. They were clearly trying to spend a longer time underwater, but for what reason? We’re not quite sure…

500 BC: Greece

During the great war between the Greeks and Persians, there’s evidence of Greeks using hollow reeds to stay incognito underwater and avoid being spotted by their Persian enemies. In fact, one Greek soldier was even able to swing amongst the Persian fleet and cut them of their moorings to prevent an attack. Using only a reed to breathe, this ancient snorkeller swam over 14km – impressive indeed!

300BC: ???

The first diving bell is developed and used by divers under the guidance of Alexander the Great. The diving bell was a large object shaped like a bell, designed to trap air inside the top as it descends underwater. Not quite snorkelling, but definitely a version of it.

1300 AD: Persia

At last! People realise that it’s gross and itchy to open your eyes underwater for extended periods. The Persians are the first to make underwater goggles, using tortoise shells. They’d slice the shells thin enough for them to be translucent, and polish them to be see-through. Amazing!

Image © Leonardo da Vinci/Public Domain

1500 AD: Italy

The inventive and artistic lad Leonardo Da Vinci proposes his own version of diving tanks, this time without animal skins. One of his inventions involved a bag-like mask that goes over the diver’s head (kind of like a full face mask!) Two tubes attached to the nose area of the masks were connected to a diving bell on the surface. The all-too-kind Da Vinci scrapped his plans as he was worried someone would use his diving inventions to commit murder or sink ships.

1531 AD, Italy:

Safe in the knowledge that his inventions are being put to good and not evil use, Da Vinci allows Guillermo de Lorena to explore a shipwreck using his diving bell. He also presents what was basically the prototype for the snorkel today – a hollow tube that’s attached to a person’s swimming cap or helmet.

1538 AD: Spain

We’re in Spain, but it’s Greeks that set the record here. Using a large diving-bell type of contraption, a crew of olden day snorkellers submerged themselves to the bottom of the Tagus River and re-emerged with dry clothes and a still burning candle! Crowds were amazed (understandably so).

Somewhere along the line here, people decided that the diving bell wasn’t ideal as it didn’t allow for much movement and had a lot of limitations. So instead, they started going back to sticking things out of their mouths.

1717: USA

Benjamin Franklin did more than just found the USA. He invented his own version of fins, designed to help people swim faster through water. They weren’t as good as the fins you and I use, they were more like wooden paddles attached to your hands and feet. Not very practical.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

1800s: England

We’ve all seen this hard-hat diver! The Siebe Gorman Company in England is the first to invent a diving helmet and dress that allowed people to freely move and interact with underwater life. The diver would be attached to a supply of air above the surface, but had to lug around a really heavy helmet and suit. This wasn’t a snorkel used on family holidays at beaches, it was mostly used for commercial purposes.

1912: France

He took Benjamin Franklins’ wooden paddles and turned them into something efficient and practical. Frenchie Louis de Corlieu invented what we now know as fins, presenting them to the French Navy (he clearly didn’t have the same conscience as Da Vinci). In 1933, he patented his fins.

Now we’ve hit the industrial revolution and what we call ‘modern day times’. This is when the snorkel evolved to look somewhat like the beautiful apparatus we see today. The first masks were DIY, homemade affairs built with stuff like tire tubes, leather, copper, glass, or plastic. You couldn’t just go online and hit up Ninja Shark, so people had to get inventive until they were made commercially available.

Image via Snorkelling Online

1940s: Everywhere

The earliest models of commercial snorkel masks are out! These were an oval piece of glass or plastic with a piece of rubber stretched over the edges and holding them into place. That was the goggle part, and it squished right over your nose. Check out the picture here, it doesn’t look very comfortable. This version of the snorkel mask was good for surface snorkelling, but since you couldn’t hold your nose to equalise the pressure, not great for diving.

1952: Italy

A company called Cressi releases a mask to solve the issues with the prior version. This one had a fancy nose pocket incorporated into the design of the mask for more comfortable snorkelling. Appropriately, the mask was called Pinocchio – and you can still buy it today (albeit a more updated version). This is basically the prototype version for the mask we see today, but there are still a few tweaks to be made.

1971: USA

A company called US Divers is the first to release a snorkel mask that uses silicone instead of rubber. The traditionally used rubber caused tunnel vision in wearers, deformed & shrunk from heat exposure, and became brittle and cracked with exposure to oxygen and UV rays. Silicone was more durable and resistant to damage, and didn’t have any of that weird tunnel vision.

2014: France

A French company invents the world’s first full face snorkel mask, allowing people to breathe both through their nose and mouth. And it’s the first of many, with manufacturers all over the world developing and refining this design to create their own new & improved versions of the full face masks.

2018: Australia

For the first time ever, snorkellers are able to pinch their nose and equalise while diving underwater, helping to ease pressure! This is an issue that’s been present in snorkelling since that day in Crete 5,000 years ago, and Ninja Shark is the first brand to combat it with their Pinch Your Nose & Equalise! full face snorkel mask. A long way away from the animal skins and hollow reeds of ancient times, these snorkel masks are comfy, anti-fog, and anti-leak for a smooth ride.

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