How Swimming Goggles Have Changed: A History

Humans have been swimming for as long as mankind can remember. Whether it was diving for pearls, catching fish using spears, or to just swim for your life, people have resourcefully used some form of swimming gear to make their tasks easier. Today, it’s hard to picture a swim meet without the competitors wearing swim suits, caps and goggles. Swimwear has been around for a long time while goggles are really relatively new to the competitive sport.


Goggles were initially used as aids to help people in underwater diving occupations instead of for recreational or competitive purposes.

Early Records

The use of goggles to protect eyes against salt water or chlorine is logical. They enable a swimmer to stay in the water longer without experiencing any soreness. The earliest record we have of goggles being used in water is from the 14th century. James Dugan in his book Man under the Sea quotes the famous traveler Ibn-Batuta who wrote about a pearl fishery in 1331 in the Persian Gulf “Before diving, the diver puts on his face a sort of tortoise-shell mask”. Mr. Dugan goes on to state that sea-turtle shell can be polished to near transparency and was perhaps also used by Polynesian divers before Europeans introduced them to glass.

There aren’t really many more mentions of protective eye wear for swimming until the 16th century. There are illustrations from that era showing Venetian coral divers using tortoise-shell goggles. It is presumed that these goggles were possibly imported to the Mediterranean countries from Persia.

Lens-less Glasses?

Polynesian divers in the 18th century used deep wooden or bamboo frames without any lenses. They worked by trapping air in the frames when the diver looked down. They were limited in their use as the only functioned when the diver was looking down.

The Polynesians then incorporated lenses when the European explorers introduced them to glass. These glasses were not fully waterproof however and often fell off while diving or turning.

Goggles in Swimming

Goggles were developed for various industries: from motorcycling to aviation although goggles were not really used in competitive swimming until the 20th century. Thomas ‘Bill” Burgess is commonly believed to have been the first person to use goggles while swimming competitively.  He used motorcycle goggles that weren’t completely waterproof but served to protect his eyes while he crossed the channel in 1911.

Bill Burgess was later hired by Gertrude Ederle who became the first woman to swim the channel in 1926. She waterproofed motorcycle goggles for her attempt with the help of some paraffin wax and her sister.

Although, the popularization of skin diving and scuba contributed to the development of scuba masks and goggles for diving, none of these products were particularly suited for competitive swimming.

DIY Goggles

In 1940, the American magazine ‘Popular Scientist’ printed instructions on how to make your own wooden swimming goggles. Many open water swimmers used rubber goggles soon after with large double lenses but they still were not used in pools. These goggles were cumbersome but protected swimmers from the sting of salt water.

The Advent of Modern Goggles in Pools

It was not until 1968 that manufacturers started advertising goggles for use in pools. Until then, swimmers preferred to use eye washes or put up with minor irritation for the greater good of the sport. The early glasses were not immediately popular however as they were not available in a variety of sizes and did not necessarily fit every swimmer.

Goggles were also viewed as training equipment and were not allowed to be used in competitions.  In 1969, Tony Godfrey developed the ‘Godfrey goggle’ made from polycarbonate plastic as it was light and durable as well as shatter proof.

Goggles at the Commonwealth Games

Scottish swimmer David Wilkie became the first competitive swimmer to use swimming goggles in an international competition in 1970 to protect him from his allergy to the chlorinated water. He not only achieved a personal best, he also won the bronze medal in the 1970 Commonwealth Games. This really made swimming goggles an object of desire.

Eye wear for swimmers has come a long way since then with designs advancing in leaps and bounds. Glasses are now adjustable, come in many different shapes and sizes, are anti-fog and protect swimmers from UV radiation. In fact they have now become an essential part of a swimmer’s attire.

How to Choose the Right Swim Goggles

With the wide variety of goggles available on the market today, it can be difficult to choose the perfect pair for yourself. The main things to look for while choosing a pair are:

  • They should seal well. This can be checked by pushing them against your eye sockets without using the straps. You should feel a gentle suction and they should fit well.
  • Make sure the nose piece is comfortable and does not dig into your skin.
  • Know what kind of conditions you will be using them in and look for features accordingly.

Our Top Swim Goggles

As mentioned earlier, swimming goggles today come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Their functions also vary, from polarized glasses to fog free lenses.

Zoggs Predator Flex Polarized Swimming Goggles

These mid-range goggles are perfect for outdoor swimming as the copper lenses reduce glare. The Fogbuster impregnated anti-fog lenses provide longer fog free swimming taking away the need for constant defogging and so giving you a longer more enjoyable swimming experience.


Zone3 Vapour Polarized Swim Goggles

These glasses by Zone 3 have soft silicone eye-pieces that ensure a great fit that reduce red suction marks after swimming. The gold polarized lenses are ideal for both light and dark conditions. They also have 100% UVA/UVB protection.


Swim wear has really come a long way and today, swimming without the aid of goggles is almost unthinkable, whether it is for recreational or competitive purposes. If you are looking for a new pair of goggles that are not just useful but look stylish as well, check out our collection at Just Wetsuits. Contact us if you have any questions and we will be happy to help!

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