Short History about Folding Boats

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On the cover of Life magazine in 1957 for his epic unassisted crossing of the Atlantic in a folding kayak in 1956, Dr. Hannes Lindemann drew worldwide attention to the modern-day rigid kayak's precursor, the folding kayak.

Folding boat history goes back to the mid 1800's, including use during the American Civil War in 1863-64.  The first workable folding kayak was built by Alfred Heurich in 1905, a German architectural student. Heurich paddled his creation on the Isar River near Munich and took out a patent on the design, called the Delphin (German: Dolphin), the following year. The Delphin had a bamboo frame with a sailcloth hull stretched over it. It could be folded up and carried in three bags, each weighing less than 4.5 kg (9.9 lb). Commercial production in Europe commenced in 1907, however, and is attributed to German tailor Johann Klepper who was approached by a Munich architect that had designed a folding kayak and needed someone to sew a skin to cover it. The original folding kayak design was based on the idea of a skin and frame Eskimo kayak for seaworthiness but with a larger body for roominess. The boat's shape was a cross between a kayak and canoe, folding by means of ingenious fastenings in several sections.

What set this design apart from its predecessors was the principle that the framework be pushed into a ready-made hull or kayak skin, whereas most previous attempts were limited to attaching canvas in one form or another to the outside of a framework. The new "Kleppers" were also designed to be carried easily in bags and allow their users to journey by train. And so the folding kayak was born. To this day many folding kayaks still share some of these basic design and assembly features and are still carried in bags or backpacks, some weighing less than 20 lbs. The above picture with bikers carrying their folding Klepper kayaks was captured on film in 1910, in Europe.

The folding kayak or "foldboating" sport grew rapidly from 1920 to 1930 in Europe with thousands of Clubs organized all over Central Europe.

In 1934, foldboating was elevated to the Olympic Convention in Athens, Greece. On this Olympic history page you can see the double Swedish team winners in their double (text in German).

Left is a 1938 flyer summing-up the 1936 Olympic winners, all with folding kayaks.

Literally hundreds of folding kayak manufacturers produced folding boats through the years leading to WWII.

Fast forward one hundred years and a bit and foldboating remains solidly entrenched in European tradition and folding kayak clubs still abound, especially in Germany and Switzerland.

During WWII, 'Folboats' or folding boats were used in British X24 submarines. They were rolled into a cigar shape and stowed in the forward torpedo compartment (the forends) in place of reload torpedoes. Launching was via the forward torpedo loading hatch. The final assembly of the folding kayak was done on the submarine deck.

Folding kayaks are nowadays produced in Rosenheim, Bavaria, Germany. or in Poland besides many other places all over the world. Following a devastating fire, the Klepper Museum and Manufacturing facilities had to be re-built. Thanks to the generosity of paddlers, the museum once again displays Kleppers dating back to the first folding kayaks produced in 1907. If you can read in German, you might be interested in a book called 'Das Klepper Buch', in PDF format (literally translated as The Klepper Book).

The traditions of going on adventures with a folding kayak also were cherrished by John Paul II. In these pictures the Pope is shown during his beloved hobby.

Visit also the history page on Expeditionkayak.com and see photos and read descriptions for several of these famous Klepper folding kayak adventures.

 
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