Hailed as one of the greatest swimmers of all times, Adolph Kiefer was a member of the first group of champions to be inaugurated into the Swimming Hall of Fame (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) in 1965.
Born in Chicago, Illinois June 27th, 1918, Adolph Kiefer’s first memories of swimming are from when his father would take Adolph and his brothers swimming after church every Sunday in order to teach them the importance of knowing how to swim. He loved to swim and it was on Sister’s Lake in Michigan one summer where at the age of ten, began to reveal the early signs of his exceptional swimming ability.
He could swim by himself across the lake and back, frightening his parents, and at the same time, exercising the independent character of the Olympic Champion he would some day become.
Back in Chicago at the Wilson Avenue YMCA, Adolph participated in the Y's famed Gold Medallion swimming contest where he swam the mile event. Though he was four years younger than all the other swimmers, it was at that venue where he received his first instruction from established swimmers. The following school year, he entered Von Steuben Junior High School on the north side of Chicago, a school that had indoor swimming facilities matched with a coach and an organized team.
Later, while attending Roosevelt High School, Adolph really started to prove himself as a serious competitor. While swimming in the 100-yard event at the Illinois High School Championships of 1936, Adolph Kiefer became the first man ever to break the one-minute mark! At 17 years old, he was now the fastest backstroker in the world!
One year, 23 records, thousands of backstrokes later, Adolph was now a youthful 18-years of age when he entered the world theater of athletics representing the United States at the Berlin Games of the 1936 Olympics. He won the gold medal for the 100-meter backstroke.
To the Olympics hosts, the Berlin Games were supposed to be a showcase of Germany's strength and Adolf Hitler's moment of triumph. But as the games proceeded, Germany was handedly defeated in almost every sport as the USA brought home more gold, silver and bronze medals than Germany kept.
During a practice session before the games kicked off, the infamous German dictator arranged for a personal meeting between himself and Adolph Kiefer. Kiefer has always said, "If I had known then what I know today I would have thrown him in the pool!"
After a triumphant return, Kiefer continued his successful reign on the record books compiling an astounding number of record-breaking performances. He along with other Olympic champions embarked on a whirlwind tour of Europe, China, Japan, the Philippines and South America, meeting and beating every great swimmer in the world. His career stat is most astonishing in that in over 2,000 races Adolph only lost twice.
At one point, Hollywood called Kiefer out to do a screen test for Tarzan. After the meeting, he asked what the pay was. When they told him it was 17 dollars per month he pointed to a plane up in the sky and told the producers, "see that plane? I'm already on it." Kiefer returned to Chicago and started to think about how he could make a living out of what he enjoyed most. Swimming.
WWII Adolph Kiefer answered the call to arms as most every man did joining the US Navy and serving as chief petty officer where he moved through the ranks to first lieutenant by the end of the war.
While serving his country, Kiefer reported his personal observations to the Navy’s highest command after hearing the reports of the soaring casualties from drowning. The Navy had been losing more lives to drowning than to enemy bullets. He was appointed to a committee and the president's council on safety where new guidelines were set, a training manual written, and after its implementation more than 33,000 navy swimming instructors were taught by Kiefer how to stay alive in the water.
Who else but the U.S. Navy should Kiefer have taught to swim?
While inspecting the captured German warship, the Prince Eugen, Kiefer discovered the German’s unique ring buoys made from an unknown material. Kiefer had the material inspected and it was discovered to be PVC. At Kiefer’s suggestion, the U.S. Navy instituted the use of PVC foam in the construction of ring buoys and life vests. Prior to this, the navy had used canvas covered cork and kapok flotation devices.
In 1946, he established Adolph Kiefer & Co. in Chicago. Devoted to providing swimmers with training equipment personally designed by Kiefer for development and teaching swimmers from beginner through expert. During the following decade the company grew and he donated much of his time and efforts to helping youngsters learn to swim.
As the official aquatics supplier to the 1948 U.S. Olympic Swim Team, Kiefer introduced the nylon swimsuit, a lightweight alternative to wool and cotton suits and far less expensive than the silk suits used at the time. Kiefer’s revolutionary suit at the 1948 Olympic Games attracted much praise and attention from the entire sporting community. The nylon suit has today become a standard.
The 1950’s came and Adolph Kiefer & Co. concentrated on product development designing and improving many significant training and pool goods. Kiefer dedicated himself to building his business and also working on new ideas for aquatic safety and competition swimming. In 1960, Adolph Kiefer was appointed to John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on Fitness and Industry.
Helping ‘The City That Works" -- Work Better!
The 1960’s. One of the greatest obstacles in swimming has and always will be facility access. Kiefer saw an extreme lack of availability for Chicago’s inner-city children. Addressing this issue on a grand scale became a venture well worth the effort and just as timely.
As inner city children of the 1960’s were bearing the brunt of racial tensions and hostilities, Adolph saw the need for athletic activities for young people to exert their energy. Working with Ted Williams and other sports legends, Kiefer met with Chicago’s famous and powerful Mayor Richard J. Daley and implemented a plan to build swimming facilities across Chicago. The plan called for the public pools to be built next to firehouses bringing the communities and the firemen together. Thousands of Chicago youths cooled-off at these swimming facilities over the years while learning to swim, an opportunity never before available.
Today, Kiefer continues to be totally dedicated to the advancement of swimming as a sport and more. Aquatic therapy, safety and rescue equipment, training and workout gear, the latest in technology is what Adolph Kiefer is thinking -- from the Olympic Pool at Atlanta to the one at any high school, Kiefer is striving to make swimming as safe as it is fun.