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June 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Brief History of the Wetsuit

from the June, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the early part of World War II, Dr. Hugh Bradner, a University of California physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb, talked to Navy frogmen about the problems of being immersed in cold water for long periods of time. “He was looking at the radical notion that you didn’t have to stay dry to stay warm,” his daughter Bari Cornet told the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1951, experimenting with neoprene in the basement of his home in Berkeley, CA, he discovered that a layer of neoprene would trap heat between it and the body, and the water would heat up to body temperature, keeping one warm. Dr. Bradner, himself a diver, and a few of his colleagues created a small company to market the “EDCO Sub- Mariner” suit, “$45 for the short version and $75 for the full suit,” as an ad in a 1954 edition of Skin Diver magazine put it.

He never patented the invention and the wetsuit business venture foundered, but plenty of people in the diving and surfing business have made small fortunes from Bradner’s invention. He died on May 5 at the age of 92.

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