Promoter and engineer Fred Waller was born in Brooklyn New York in 1886 and is mainly remembered as one of the leading lights in the American Film industry, for his inventions, techniques and of the films he made, while a top film director at Paramount Studios based in New York.
During his early years in the film industry he directed a series of excellent short subjects for Paramount Studios, where he also oversaw the photographic research and special effects department. No one who has seen the Paramount film shorts of Phil Spitalny, In a Ray Hutton, Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington will forget Waller's winning style of presentation. Then in 1939 along with his brother Ralph Walker he developed "Vitarama" which was displayed at the World's Fair in New York, being the the prototype for Cinerama (a film projection widescreen format).
In 1952 he made a film called 'This Is Cinerama' using this format, that was shown in New York City.
What is not generally known is that he was always working on different ideas trying to invent something. In fact during his life time he held over one thousand patents covering a wide variety of subjects.
Another of his other inventions included the first automatic photographic printer and timer. While during World War II he invented a gunnery trainer (like a pilot training simulator) used by American and British armed forces.
However, it is one of his other inventions the 'Dolphin Akwa-Skee' he patented in 1925 that is of great interest to this website. An early advertisement once claimed that 'Akwa-Skees' were said to “glide on the surface of the water while being towed behind a power-boat. They were sold by Abercrombie & Fitch and Marshall Field.
Although Waller was the first to patent water skis, he was not the first to invent them. They may also have appeared in France in the early 1920s, but they were definitely introduced in America in 1922 by Ralph W. Samuelson, a nineteen-year-old who skied on two huge planks of wood on Lake Pepin in Minnesota. Samuelson put on one-man skiing exhibitions for fifteen years and never accepted money for them. In 1925 he began jumping over lard-greased five-foot-high floats, and he sometimes covered as much as sixty feet.
Click on photo to enlarge repeat to shrink
Wallers inspiration behind the invention of the water ski was not as a leisure time sporting device. It was developed as a means of supporting a motion picture camera while traveling on water, but the spin-off use as a sport soon became very popular in America as others picked up on the idea.
His first skis were eight feet long and made of the same straight-grain, kiln-dried mahogany used in yachts. There were no rubber slippers for the feet, instead the skier stood on flat rubber treads and gripped a rope attached to the tip of the skis. Each ski tip, in turn, was attached by rope to the back of the boat. The design was based on the aquaplane, a wooden slab towed behind a motorboat, which had been introduced in 1913.
Its also worth noting that Waller was also a regular snow skier.
Sadly he died on the 18th May 1954 on Long Island New York USA
Fred Wallers 1950 Diary's