Lifejacket History

Lifejacket History

The history of lifejackets

Lifejackets have been saving lives for generations. Their history is a potted one but can probably be traced back to the simple blocks of wood or cork used by Norwegian seamen. 

The first cork life jacket was patented in 1765 by Dr John Wilkinson. In his book entitled the 'Seaman's Preservation from Shipwreck, Diseases, and Other Calamities Incident to Mariners' , John Wilkinson described the benefits of his life cork life preservers.

Being British ourselves, we will credit the invention of the forerunner of the modern lifejacket to Captain Ward, an RNLI inspector in the UK, who in 1854 created a cork vest to be worn by lifeboat crews for both weather protection and buoyancy.

Cork was used for many years. Anyone who has seen the film titanic will remember the cork lifejackets, available to some of the passengers.

From the 'Aberdeen Journal' April 1875: James Kinnear 'Lifejacket Inventor'

From the 'Times' Sydney, Australia June 1912: William Carrol 'Lifejacket Inventor'

This Century - lifejackets

Cork is nice and 'floatatious' but can be a little hard, so kapok, which is a fibrous vegetable material minutely honeycombed with air cells and a much softer alternative to cork, became the standard stuffing around the turn of the century. This was particularly useful on navy ships, because seamen wore their lifejackets even while sleeping.

Cork and kapok lifejackets were standard for many years. Sadly like most inventions War brought us the inflatable lifejacket - as worn by sailors and submariners. This military technology was then applied to consumer lifejackets and these have developed into the many styles that we see today.

In the 60's synthetic foams were developed and the foam lifejacket invented. This new technology brought with it the flexibility to produce all the variations that we currently see. Each sport could then have its own style of jacket, such as Ski or Angling vests.

Wanted antique lifejackets!

The Marine Warehouse are interested in lifejacket history. Being lifejacket specialists we actually collect old ones! If you know something we don't or have an antique lifejacket to sell for our collection - email us via the contact form!


Benefit from the very latest in technology, we hold huge stocks of a wide range of lifejackets, from kids to offshore class auto inflating models. No Cork or Kapok!

Click here to see our range

Contact Us

Please contact us if you have an antique lifejacket for sale.

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