The Floatation Suitcase
The town of Claresholm lies in the southwest corner of Alberta, resting
between open prairie to the east and the western foothills and the Rocky Mountains. At more than 1,000 kilometres from the Pacific ocean and almost
5,000 kilometres to the Atlantic, the farming town of Claresholm could
hardly be confused with a Maritime port. Yet in 1912, not even Claresholm
was immune to the disaster of the Titanic. After the passenger liner sank
on April 14 of that year, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew,
people around the world mourned and then began thinking of ways to prevent
the tragedy from reoccurring. One such person was John Edlund, a resident
of Claresholm, a photographer, a former sailor and a relentless inventor.
Edlund's solution was a personal full-body life preserver suit. Designed
to fold out of a common carrying-case, the design was light, just 12
pounds and, as it could be carried by each passenger, it was a solution to
the problem of not enough life vessels for the passengers aboard the
Titanic. By making the solution a matter of individual choice and
responsibility, Edlund's invention offered potential owners the knowledge
that they would have access to a flotation device and safety.
The life preserver would not only to keep a misfortunate passenger afloat,
but also dry and safe for up to four days in rough seas. If danger presented
itself, the owner would open the bag and fold out the legs and
arm-flippers. Once the suit was laid out, the user could then climb in.
The case itself acted as a kind of helmet, protecting the user's head and
As the legs were separate, the wearer would have the ability to walk on
the ship's deck to the side of the boat. Once in the water, the waterproof
fabric and the available airlocks provided the user with a degree of
comfort and safety. The user would be able to see through a small glass
view-hole on the side of the case and maneuver in the water using the
flipper-sleeves. Inside, there was even room for stored food. When the
life-preserver was not being used, the storage case offered enough extra
space for the storage of a few suits or dresses more appropriate for an
ocean liner's ballroom and the voyage itself.
Although the lifesaving suitcase was created in Claresholm, inventor John
Edlund was himself born in Norway to Swedish parents and spent part of his
youth working aboard whaling vessels. No stranger to shipwrecks, Edlund
survived three before leaving the seas for solid ground and, eventually,
Claresholm with its dry prairie climate and isolation from large
bodies of water. The suitcase life preserver is the product of a
combination of one man's grief over universal tragedy and a few personal
close calls. No matter how far Edlund may have been from the Titanic, he
was motivated to prevent another shipping tragedy.
While the apparatus never became an industry standard, there was interest
in the flotation device during the First World War, one firm offered to
purchase the design for a small fee. Mr. Edlund decided to market the
product himself. Like many inventions developed by individuals without the
proper access to money and marketing, the travelling bag/life preserver
did not result in fortunes. However, it was profiled in newspapers and
magazines across North America, including Scientific American. The Globe,
predecessor of today's Globe and Mail, proclaimed the invention "added to
the gaiety of nations." Meanwhile, the Boston Transcript went so far as to
immortalize Edlund's achievement in verse: "Secure I rest upon the wave,
locked in John Edlund's new valise."
While it may not have caught on with industry or the public, it was an
honest attempt to save lives and an example of how a tragedy can bring
about an invention designed for the good of all.
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