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Who Invented Salt Water Chlorination?

By PENNY SWIFT

It is widely accepted that salt water chlorination is an Australian invention. But some say the invention stems from New Zealand. This includes the man who invented a salt water chlorinated in New Zealand!  

It’s not just the continent that is in question. There is a huge international debate about who exactly invented salt water chlorination.

After researching the topic further, it appears that several people in the industry were in a race of sorts to launch the first salt water chlorinator. Their experimental work was concurrent, and it appears that at least some of them collaborated, or at least discussed their work.

Let’s take a closer look.

Key Players in the Race to Invent a Salt Water Chlorinator

When I wrote An Australia Invention Worth It’s Salt in 2014, I based the story on information supplied to me by Barry Meneses from Zodiac, who is a South African expert in salt water chlorination.

Len David, Australian Scientist

His belief was that it all started in Australian scientist Len David’s shed in the early 1970s where he was experimenting with titanium electrodes. He wanted to improve swimming pool chlorination by making it safer, cheaper, and more convenient.

He then started making salt water chlorinators in his garage.

My more recent research reveals that Len David, the founder of Clearwater Australia Pty Ltd, was working on developing the first Clearwater Salt Chlorinators during the late 1960s. The first of these was released for sale in 1972. I haven’t uncovered any documented claims that he was the first inventor to launch a saltwater chlorinator to market – except mine. But it’s possible.

In 2001, Zodiac acquired the Australian-based Clearwater Products, which by then was an established manufacturer of salt water products. Zodiac still sells Zodiac Clearwater salt water chlorinators worldwide.

saltwater chlorinator
A 2021 Zodiac EL-Series salt chlorinator with adjustable chlorine output and a built-in timer

Larry Ogden, the New Zealand Connection

In June 2020, Lawrence “Larry” Ogden commented on my original salt water chlorination article stating that he had designed the first device for home Saline Pool Chlorination in 1972. Larry Ogden, who has an NZMPB diploma in pool technology, is also the founder of Cascade Swimming Pools Limited, a company based in Auckland, New Zealand.

I have discovered that Larry is still executive director of Cascade, which is a family business.

salt water chlorinator
New Zealand inventor of salt water chlorinators, Larry Ogden (photograph 2008, taken from the NZ Cascade Swimming Pools Ltd website)

His initial 1972 model was IG450, an inground (IG) pool intended for the average-size home pool with a capacity of 10,000 gallons/ 45,000 litres. He believes it was a world first.

He directed us to Cascade’s website for more information. This is what I discovered.

Larry Ogden spent nearly six years, until 1971, working in the residential swimming pool industry in the US, UK, and Europe. During this time, he never saw a pool device remotely like a salt chlorinator.

He says he did hear “anecdotal stories of similar developments in Australia around that time,” but has always assumed that he and Cascade Pools of New Zealand were the commercial originators of residential salt water pool chlorinators. On the Cascade Pools website, he invites people to supply information about similar products, to see if his assumption is correct.

He certainly didn’t have the opportunity to “steal” the idea or technology from anyone in Australia.

In 1973, he took two units to a trade fair in Chicago, US, where there was significant interest in the product. But the samples “went missing” during his trip. When he returned to the US a year later, he found “a proliferation of similar units to the IG450 – even ones painted bright yellow, like ours.”

IG450 salt water chlorinator
The bright yellow IG450 launched in 1972

Manufacturers were located in Australia, Mexico, and South Africa!

In 1972 he had looked at getting a world patent for his invention, but, as a 31-year-old, he simply couldn’t afford it. In any case, he says, he would never have been able to pay to fight a series of patent cases.

Ironically, Cascade doesn’t use saline chlorinators today. Instead, they use their combined AquaGenie+Ozone system, that they say is much better, more reliable at sterilising pathogens and bacteria, and cheaper to operate.

Ted Romer and the Australian Race

Andrew Romer responded to Larry Ogden’s comment saying that not only was Len David not the inventor of the salt chlorinator, but nor was he (Larry Ogden.) Rather, he says, his father, Ted Romer, an industrial chemist, is the inventor of the first salt water chlorinator, together with Barry Gillings, a dentist.

The products the two men designed were launched separately by each of them on the same day in 1971. Gillings launched his via Orsino, and Romer through Watermaid Pty Ltd, both new companies.

Andrew Romer, who says he knows both Len David and Barry Gillings, maintains that Len David met his father at Perth Airport in 1972 where he (Len David) discussed his plans to make his own chlorinator. This may be so, but since Len David launched his first Clearwater salt chlorinator in 1972, he could not have been in the planning stages at that time!

The sting in the tail is that Andrew Romer concedes both his father’s and Barry Gillings’ original chlorination devices failed. Another source (the collaborative Wikipedia article mentioned below) says that Gillings sold about 60 units and they all failed.

Another telling point is that Andrew Gillings mentions a 1972 article published for the Australian swimming pool association of the time. It states that a report by a consultant, Ron Smith, said that the association should not recommend the use of the Watermaid equipment.

Watermaid Salt Chlorinator
A 2021 chlorinator manufactured by Watermaid

More About Watermaid

According to a collaborative article about salt water chlorination on Wikipedia, which appears to have been written by Andrew Romer, there were more people involved in the invention of residential salt water chlorinators in Australia than Ted Romer and Len David. The article doesn’t mention Larry Ogden or in fact New Zealand!

It states that “Lindsay Isles, Len David, Ted Romer, Bob Joy, Bob Nowland and Ian Bevan were all linked in the early sales of what became of the Watermaid product.” Barry Gillings is also mentioned.

In the article, Andrew Romer refers to “an original Watermaid unit in the reception area in our building that was installed in 1973 and taken out of service and replaced in 2003.”

He also mentions the decision to name this particular salt chlorinator Watermaid stating that: “When the name ‘Watermaid’ was planned to become the product/company name, there was a meeting with Lindsay Isles, Ian Bevan and Ted Romer to decide the name. Ian left the meeting and immediately registered the name Watermaid Industries that day. Watermaid Pty Ltd was registered a few days later.”

Of course, Watermaid Pty Ltd is the Romer company. And this shows the level of in-fighting at the time!

Concluding Thoughts

Interest in salt water chlorination peaked in the 1960s and New Zealander Larry Ogden, and Australians Ted Romer and Len David  started experimenting with the idea for residential swimming pools.

Len David invented the Clearwater salt chlorinator, launched in 1972, that is now part of the Zodiac brand.

Larry Ogden invented the IG450 salt chlorinator under the umbrella of his company Cascade Pools. This was also launched in 1972. Cascade no longer makes or supports the use of salt chlorinators.

Ted Romer invented the Watermaid salt chlorinator. Although his device was launched a year earlier, it was a failure. I find no reference to Watermaid launches in 1972, but Andrew Romer does refer to an “original” unit that was installed in 1973.

My conclusion is that there is no single inventor of the salt chlorinator. But what would be very interesting is to have an expert compare the three competing devices. Then we could see how different (or similar) they are to one another.

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  1. […] maintenance of a spa is not difficult or costly. One spa tab per week is all that is required to chlorinate the water.  An added hygienic feature is the use of a UV ozone sterilizing unit which may be installed to […]

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