From The Swimming World 2007 Vault: Adolph Kiefer Receives Highest Award; Replica of Stolen 1936 Olympic Medal


Swimming World went into it vast vault of content, photos and videos to relive the life of Adolph Kiefer.  Enjoy this republishing of an article first published in October 3, 2007.

THE International Swimming Hall of Fame presented Adolph Kiefer with the Gold Medallion Award, ISHOF’s highest honor, during the recent United States Aquatic Sports Convention banquet.

In a surprise, USA Swimming also presented Kiefer with a gold medal from the 1936 Olympic Games, to replace the one that had been stolen shortly after he returned from Berlin 71 years ago. The medal was specially cast from the original mold for the occasion by the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“What a tremendous surprise,” said Kiefer, after receiving the medal from Dr. Sammy Lee, 1948 and 1952 Olympic Gold medalist in Diving, and Rowdy Gaines, 1984 Olympic Gold medalist in swimming. Gaines, President of the USA Swimming Foundation, served as master of ceremonies for the banquet.

This Gold Medallion is conferred annually upon an individual who has been a former competitive swimmer and who has achieved international recognition for accomplishments in the fields of science, government, entertainment, business or education – and whose life has served as an inspiration to youth.

Learn more about the award, its past recipients and to watch Adolph talk about the honor.

Past recipients of the Gold Medallion include: US President, Ronald Reagan, US Senators Barry Goldwater and Paul Tsongas, US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, Entertainers Art Linkletter and Buddy Ebsen, Sportscaster and Women’s rights pioneer Donna deVarona, businessmen William Simon, Jim Moran and Fred Kirby to name a few. The two most recent recipients have been businessman Jim Press, former CEO of Toyota North America and Hollywood legend, Esther Williams.

“Adolph’s selection for the Gold Medallion is long over due,” said Bruce Wigo, CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. “Not only was he an Olympic Champion and world record holder, but he was instrumental in saving thousands of lives during World War II and for the past fifty years has been a giant in the swimming pool and water safety industry.”

At the 1936 Olympic Games, eighteen year old Adolph Kiefer broke the world record in the 100 meter backstroke three times. He held the world record in his specialty for 15 years and was inducted into the Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class in 1965.

Although World War II pre-empted his chances to further distinguish himself in Olympic competition, the Kiefer name has remained in the news. During World War II, he conducted a global survey of shipwrecks and documented the enormous and unnecessary toll of GI deaths resulting from inadequate swimming instruction.

A shocked corpse elevated a young Lt. Kiefer to officer in charge of swimming for the entire U.S. Navy. He revamped the entire instruction program, trained or retrained 11,000 Navy swimming instructors, and countless lives were saved.

In 1946, he established Adolph Kiefer & Co. – an aquatic sporting goods store that has been a leader in the development of aquatic products by selling and manufacturing “everything but the water”.

His first marketable product was the “Kiefer” suit. The silk shortage from WWII had caused Kiefer to consider using nylon fabric for suits. Although quite risqué for the time, they were an immediate success and improved everyone’s times.

His next great product was the wave eating lane line. Kiefer got the idea for the product from Yale’s legendary coach, Bob Kiphuth (Founder of Swimming World Magazine), who was looking for something that would reduce the waves at Payne Whitney Gymnasium’s pool.

Up to this time, lane lines were made of rope with a cork ball spaced every three feet. Kiefer put his mind to work. He noticed the plastic mesh bags that were typically used for packing citrus fruits. He used the mesh idea to create a hard plastic mesh cylinder that became the first commercial wave eating lane line.

Over the years, Adolph Kiefer & Co. has been an official supplier to both the USA Olympic Team and the Olympic Games. He has donated his time and money to efforts helping youngsters learn to swim – even supplying pools in impoverished neighborhoods.

Today, even at the age of 89, Adolph Kiefer maintains an ambitious schedule of lecturing and promoting the benefits of swimming around the world, in addition to running the business with Joyce, his beloved wife of over 60 years.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit educational organization. Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, since 1965, the mission of the Hall is to promote the benefits and importance of swimming as a key to fitness, good health, quality of life, and the water safety of children. For information about the International Swimming Hall of Fame go to or call 954-462-6536.


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