Speedo was founded in 1914 by hosiery manufacturer Alexander MacRae, who migrated from Scotland to Australia in 1910, as McRae Hosiery Manufacturers, then MacRae Knitting Mills in an effort to expand his company into swimwear.
In 1928, the name Speedo was first adopted after the firm developed its Racerback design of swimwear, making it one of the first manufacturers to specifically produce athletic designs. The name was made up by a Captain Jim Parsons who won a company competition with the slogan "Speed on in your Speedos".
During World War II the manufacturer shifted nearly all of its production to war materials such as mosquito nets. Speedo resumed production after the war and became a publicly traded corporation in 1951. In 1955, Speedo introduced nylon into its fabric for competitive swimwear. The 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne saw the widespread debut of the new fabric and the introduction of the style of mens briefs that has become associated with the brand.
The company quickly expanded into the international arena from there until the present, boasting that 70 percent of swimming medals were won by athletes wearing its products in the Olympic Games of 1968, 1972, 1976, and 2008.
Australian Peter Travis was recognised in 2008 for his invention of the Speedo bathing costume — or as the Sydney Morning Herald puts it, for creating the nation's best-loved stretch of nylon. Travis became a Member of the Order of Australia for his Speedo invention. He was also recognised for his work as a designer, sculptor, ceramicist, kite-maker and teacher. Travis invented the skimpy bathing costume while working for Speedo in 1961.
Travis says the crucial thing was to position the briefs on the hips, not the waist. He also cut the fabric on the side of the hips to just 5 cm deep. The report in the Sydney Morning Herald says the costume was an immediate hit, but did not go down well with the prudish. 'Bondi's beach inspector arrested the first man to wear the briefs on the beach, but Travis recalls that the magistrate did not pursue charges, because there was no pubic hair showing.'
During the 1970s and 1980s, new fabrics such as lycra were incorporated into the company's swimwear design. During the late 1990s, the company turned its attention to its Aquablade and Fastskin lines of competitive swimwear. The designs employ new fabrics that the company claims will reduce resistance in the water by replicating biological skin characteristics of various marine animals such as sharks.
In March 2007 in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience, Speedo's collaboration with Japanese brand Comme des Garçons hit UK fashion store Topshop with a collection of classic women's Speedos decorated with quirky Comme des Garçons designs.