Sunday, August 1, 2010

Jantzen Swimming Suits Celebrates 100 Year Anniversary

Jantzen Bathing Suits Started Out In Wool

Surfing around the internet looking for a picture of a 1950s men's plaid cabana set, I was distracted from my mission and caught up in looking at old advertisements of glamorous women in vintage Jantzen bathing suits.

100 Years Of Jantzen Exhibit

And wouldn't you know it, I missed the big anniversary exhibit (April 2010) at The Art Institute of Portland Gallery celebrating 100 years of the Jantzen swimwear brand. What was I thinking...I should have been on top of things! I really do need to pay more attention to current events instead of living in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s which is where I am most of the time.

Iconic Red Diving Girl

So, here is what we missed. Jantzen, originally The Portland Knitting Company (1910) in Portland Oregon brought in a 21 foot fiberglass model of their iconic Red Diving Girl logo to preside over the month long anniversary exhibit. The Diving girl became an international icon in the 20's and continued as a popular image into the 1930s as movie stars began wearing Jantzen.

Jantzen Wool Rowing Suits

The Portland Knitting Company made sweaters, wool hosiery, knitted goods and then ventured into the beginnings of the bathing suit line when the owners were asked to make a rowing suit for the Portland Rowing Club in 1918. Owners, John A. Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen
were members of The Portland Rowing Club and agreed to make wool rowing trunks for use on chilly mornings.

From Rowing Trunks To Bathing Suits

After trunks were made, the idea for a bathing suit was next. But the bathing suit was too heavy and changes needed to be made, using lighter fabric.

Jantzen Company Newspaper Tells History

Here is what Zehntbauer said in the company paper, The Janzen Yarns:

" Later on, this same member came to me and asked if we could not make him a bathing suit of the same material .... a suit was made for him and he went to the ocean to bathe in the cold water. When he came back, he came into the store and told us that it was heavy and one could not swim well in it, but that he was well satisfied because it was so much warmer than any suit that he had ever had before and that it made ocean bathing a pleasure. ... this experience gave us the idea that a bathing suit made of this stitch, only in lighter weight, would be an excellent garment. We discussed this between ourselves and decided that we would order a needle bed for our sweater machine that would be fine enough to knit a rib-stitch bathing suit in a weight that would be comfortable".

Lighter Bathing Suit Fabric

"Roy, Carl, Joe Gerber and I were constantly in the water those days, either in the Y. M. C. A. swimming pool or in the river and we began to experiment for our own use on swimming suits made of this fine elastic fabric. We soon developed a suit which we found was the most excellent garment for swimming that we had ever seen."

The original wool suits became the prototype for swimsuits first produced in 1918.

The Jantzen name was used as the trade mark name.

In 1919 and 1920 the company advertised Jantzen bathing suits.
In 1921 the phrase "Swimming suit" became a new advertising name, replacing the term "bathing suit" .

Resources for this article from:

C. Dianne Zweig is the author of Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s and Hot Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes. She is also the Editor of an actively growing internet based resource community for people who buy, sell or collect antiques, collectibles and art. You can find Dianne’s fabulous retro and vintage kitchen, home and cottage collectibles at The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Hartford, CT, a 22,000 feet antique emporium with an in-house retro cafĂ©.To read more articles by C. Dianne Zweig click on this link: C. Dianne Zweig’s Blog Kitsch ‘n Stuff Email me at dianne@cdiannezweig.comVisit my website, CDianneZweig.comDianne is a member of:The American Society of Journalists and AuthorsThe Authors Guild, Inc.


  1. I live in Australia and a couple of years ago I was given a jar of vintage buttons by an 78-year-old work colleague. They belonged to his wife. In it I found a buckle with the Jantzen diver on it. A quick bit of googling told me that it was a buckle off a pair of 1930s men's bathing trunks!
    I love the old Jantzen ads - they're so dreamy!

  2. this is a fantastic post!

    thanks for stopping by my ol' blog... will add yours shortly to my bloglist...