Courtesy of P.W. Gallaudet, 1818.

In J. Frost’s book, The Art Of Swimming that was published in 1818, a passage written by Benjamin Franklin included a description of hand paddles and fins.

When I was a boy, I made two oval pallets, each about 10 inches long, and six broad, with a hole for the thumb, in order to retain it fast in the palm of my hand. They much resemble a painter’s pallets. In swimming, I pushed the edges of these forward, and I struck the water with their flat surfaces as I drew them back. I remember I swam faster by means of these pallets, but they fatigued my wrists.

I also fitted to the soles of my feet a kind of sandals; but I was not satisfied with them, because I observed that the stroke is partly given by the inside of the feet and the an[k]les, and not entirely with the soles of the feet.

Historical Note: Franklin (1706 – 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and is inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Contributor in the Class of 1984) and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Swimmer in the Class of 1968). He was an author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, printer, oceanographer, satirist, political theorist, scientist, and statesman of his era. He was a lifelong swimmer, teaching himself how to swim in Boston Harbor and advocated learn-to-swim classes as an early proponent of physical fitness, both for peace of mind and for safety in one’s life. He wrote, “I had a strong inclination for the sea; living near the water, I was much in it and about it and learnt early to swim well.”

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