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Great moments in plastics inventions: the pool noodle

July 8, 2014

Next time you’re picking up some pool noodles for an outing to the pool or the lake, thank the Hartman family and Industrial Thermo Polymers Ltd. of Brampton, Ontario, who invented the noodle almost by accident.

In an interview with public radio’s Marketplace about the invention of summertime favorites, CEO and President Steve Hartman said he originally set out to start a business with his father, David Hartman when, in 1980, his father — a plastics industry veteran — told him he’s bought some equipment.

“He said he found a tandem extrusion line, and I said: ‘What’s a tandem line?’ ‘Oh, you make foam with it.’ ‘Well that’s interesting. What are we going to make with it?’”

The original business plan was to make backer rods which are used in construction. But as the company grew, the family ended up with 9-foot, gray foam rods the family would play with in the pool. Hartman had the idea of giving them brighter colors and selling them retail, but, as he told Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal, it was hard to find a way to market them.

“You float around with them,” Hartman would tell potential buyers. “You hit your brother with them.”

Finally a buyer for retailer Canadian Tire took a chance on stocking them, and the business took off.

Industrial Thermo Polymers still makes backer rods and other customer polyethylene foam parts, but it also produces about half of the pool noodles sold in North America.

Listen to the full interview, about four-and-a-half minutes.

(And thanks to PN news editor Rhoda Miel for today's post).