Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
Speedo Swimwear - Alexander MacRae (circa 1890-1935)

Alexander MacRae was born around 1890 (1888 and 1892 are both quoted) in Kyle of Lochalsh in north-west Scotland. In 1910 he emigrated from his home near Loch Kishorn to Australia. He was already married to a local girl and they later had five sons and a daughter. His wife died in 1925, giving birth to their only daughter. MacRae himself died on November 30 1938 - St. Andrews Day.

MacRae established a company, MacRae Hosiery, in 1914 on Bondi Beach, Sydney, but changed the name later to MacRae Knitting Mills as he began to expand into swimwear. The brand name initially was "Fortitude" - taken from the motto of the clan MacRae. Its Racerback brand was one of the first figure hugging designs specifically created for athletes rather than just fashion. The name "Speedo" was adopted in 1928 after an employee, Captain Jim Parsonson, won a company competition with the slogan "Speed on in your Speedos". Legendary Swedish swimmer Arne Borg wore a Speedo and set a new world record shortly after and Australian Clare Dennis won gold in the 200-metre breaststroke in the 1932 Olympics, setting a new Olympic record. She narrowly escaped disqualification when a protest was lodged against her "inappropriate" costume on the grounds that it exposed too much of her shoulder blade! In the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 an Australian menís swim team all wore Speedo, including a new, "daring", bare-chested swimming shorts design.

After World War II (during which production switched to materials such as mosquito nets), Speedo swimsuits began to be sold again. Their "two-piece" bikini was initially banned by Australian beach inspectors! MacRae Knitting Mills became a public company on the Sydney stock exchange in 1951 and four years later Speedo introduced nylon into the fabric for its competitive swimwear. It was widely used in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and of the 54 countries competing in swimming events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, 52 of them used Speedos. By that time the company had expanded rapidly, frequently in the forefront of development of the use of new fabrics such as lycra and the latest Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer. Since the top swimmers tend to use Speedo swimwear, it is hardly surprising that it has become "the world's fastest swimsuit". In the 2008 Olympics, Speedo was reported to have offered Michael Phelps a $1-million bonus for matching Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven Olympic gold medals in the 1972 Olympics (Spitz wore Speedo swimming trunks then too).

In 1991 the Pentland Group, an English company based in London, took over the Speedo Group. Speedo International Ltd is now based in Nottingham, England.

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