The days are long gone when a swimmer could set three world records in an afternoon and later that year letter as a college football lineman, but that is what Herbert Vollmer did at Columbia in 1916. Called the Human Motor Boat when speed boats were still new, Vollmer was among the top swimmers of the pre-WWI era.
Raised in New York City, Vollmer played football at Stuyvesant High School but did not initially at Columbia because they dropped the game in 1906 and did not bring it back until his sophomore year. Vollmer also played Tarzan water polo, a rather rough version of water polo favored in America due to our building smaller indoor pools than the rest of the world (or something like that).
Vollmer's big day came on February 17, 1916, when he set world records in the 150-yard, 200-yard, and 500-meter freestyle events. He spent time in swimming competitions in Hawaii that summer, sailing home in time for football practice. With the Lions preparing for their second football season using the forward pass, the wags at several newspapers suggested Vollmer would play best on wet fields. True or not, he began as a reserve center, moving into the starting role at right tackle when injuries hit the team.
By the time the football rolled around his senior season, Vollmer was in the Naval Reserves and was called to active duty in September, so his gridiron days were over.
Having missed his best chance at Olympic glory when the 1916 games slated for Berlin went up in smoke, Vollmer made the U.S. water polo teams in 1920 and 1924, captaining the team to a bronze medal at the 1924 Paris games.
Vollmer remained active in the senior swimming and Tarzan water polo circuits for another 15 years before serving in administrative roles and working in commercial real estate.
Subscribe for free and never miss a story. Support this site with a paid subscription, buy me a coffee (or two), buy my books, or a blog-used item.