Rest In Peace Inventor of the Wetsuit

wetsuit051208_2.jpgHugh Bradner died this week at the age of 92. Bradner was a prominent physicist and professor emeritus at the Scripps. He worked on the Manhattan Project and later designed instrumentation for the fusion bomb. He was one of the first Americans to make a deep dive using SCUBA.

Interestingly, Bradner is probably not best known for is contributions to physics but rather as the scientist that invented the wetsuit. From Wikipedia

In 1951, UC Berkeley physicist Hugh Bradner had the insight that a thin layer of trapped water could act as an insulator. He sent his ideas to Lauriston C. “Larry” Marshall. Marshall was involved in a U.S. Navy/National Research Council Panel on Underwater Swimmers.[8] It was Willard Bascome who suggested neoprene as a feasible material. However, Bradner and Bascome were not overly interested in profiting from their design and never marketed a version to the public; nor did they patent their design. The first written documentation of Bradner’s invention was in a letter dated June 21, 1951

You can get more details of the story here.

But if you know your wetsuit history two others are also credited with invention. Run down here. Jack and Robert O’Neil (yes that O’Neil) created that first designs for a neoprene wetsuit that they later marketed. Bob and Bill Meistrell also started experimenting with neoprene around 1953 and later formed the company Body Glove.

“That’s got to be the longest-standing argument in surfing,” says Matt Warshaw, a San Francisco-based surf historian….

“We developed the surf suit. I just know we did it,” O’Neill says from his oceanfront home in Santa Cruz.

Meistrell, in constant motion inside the dining cabin of the company’s 72-foot yacht, is similarly certain and direct. “I believe we did it first. And everyone copied us,” he says.

O’Neill and Meistrell have locked horns in the wetsuit business and threatened lawsuits for decades. Each revels in his insistence that the other is wrong.

Bradner, the lone non-multimillionaire of the bunch, stakes his claim with professorial precision.

“The only invention I claim in this is the neoprene wetsuit,” he says. “If somebody has documentation that precedes mine, I’d like to hear about it.”

I’m personally casting my greatly biased vote for Bradner, the Ph.D. who didn’t make millions.

Dr. M (1629 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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