Today’s swim goggle was born from motorcycle goggles.
The first known swimmer to use them in this way was Tom Burgess, an enterprising Channel-crosser who strapped on a pair of motorcycle goggles and what appears to be a world-class banana hammock while swimming breaststroke from France to England in 1911.
The overall shape and design of this particular piece of swim equipment—two big sockets and an elastic band around the head—hasn’t really changed much since then. The materials, size, colors and marketing, on the other hand, absolutely have.
In 1935, buoyed by the rising popularity of scuba diving and the need for better masks and goggles, inventor Walter G. Farrell patented an “underwater eye protector” designed to help divers swim around that grandfathered many of the current goggle designs.
In modern competition it was the breaststroker David Wilkie of Great Britain (a huge inspiration of the late Victor Davis, as it were) who put on a pair of goggles (and a cap!) at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.
They were by no means an overnight sensation, with many swimmers continuing to swim though the 1970’s and 1980’s without them, not the least of which was Mark Spitz, who won 7 Olympic gold medals in 1972 at the Munich Olympics with no goggles, but a devastating mustache.
During the 1970’s the ubiquitous Swedish goggles was developed by Melsten AB, a Swedish swim manufacturer, giving swimmers the difficult decision between looking cool or not having sore orbital bones (as you can guess, swimmers chose the former).
As swimming gear became more profitable, more and more companies began offering swim goggles, helping fuel an ever-growing swimming apparel business that does billions of dollars annually.