Oympic gold medalist, world record breaker, inventor and pool supply giant. That’s Adolph Kiefer, America’s athletic glory, still powering along at 85 years of age.
The current head of Kiefer & Associates in Zion, Ill., Kiefer started swimming when he fell into a drainage canal and discovered the backstroke. Shortly after, he began practicing swimming at any open pool he could enter by sneaking onto truck beds or streetcars, seven days a week. His persistence paid off: Kiefer broke the world record in high school. He then placed first in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics at the age of 17.
Following his victory, Kiefer attended the University of Texas. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Navy and was recruited to the Navy’s Physical Instructors School in Cambridge, Md. There, he discovered something that changed the Navy forever. He was shocked by how many sailors drowned in World War II because they lacked sufficient swimming skills. Appealing to an admiral in Washington, D.C., he helped set up a training complex to teach new sailors how to swim. He trained 13,000 wartime instructors. He was also the first instructor for Navy scuba divers.
In the late 1940s Kiefer performed in various water shows and as a synchronized swimmer. He even raced seals.
In 1947, with his wife Joyce’s help, he opened his company, which remains on the front lines of swimming technology. He created and patented about a dozen aquatics products including the first nylon swimsuit. His company supplied equipment for several Olympic Games and other major competitions, and still does today.