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The modern term "bikini" for a particular bathing suit design was first used by Heim and Reard (who were, in reality, the

re-inventors of the bikini). Heim was a couturier designer from Cannes, France, who had designed a very small bathing suit

called the "Atome" (french for atom). He hired a skywriting plane to advertise his design by skywriting "Atome -- the

world's smallest bathing suit" Three weeks later, Reard, a mechanical engineer, had another skywriting plane write "Bikini

-- smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.
In the early 1900's the Japanese began to administer the Marshall Islands. This domination later resulted in a military build up throughout the islands in anticipation of World War II. Bikini and the rest of these peaceful, low lying coral atolls in the Marshalls suddenly became strategic. The Bikini islanders' life of harmony drew to an abrupt close when the Japanese built and maintained a watchtower on their island to guard against an American invasion of the Marshalls. Throughout the conflict the Bikini station served as an outpost for the Japanese headquarters in the Marshall Islands, Kwajalein Atoll.

In February of 1944, toward the end of the war, in a gruesome and terrifying bloody battle, the American forces captured Kwajalein Atoll and thereby effectively crushed the Japanese hold on the Marshall Islands. The five Japanese men left on Bikini, while hiding in a covered foxhole, killed themselves with a grenade before the American military forces could capture them.

It seems somewhat amazing that the bikini, that sexily scant swimsuit that has become such a cultural icon in the U.S. and elsewhere, could have been in existence for only a mere 60 years. Surely the outfit that has so completely taken over America's beaches and swimming pools and become such an entrenched part of its culture has a longer history than just six decades. Interestingly enough, depending upon how one defines the term "bikini," it actually has a history that reaches back thousands of years. While the name "bikini" has been in existence only since 1946, the popular two-piece swimsuit that embodies that name has actually existed since about 1600 B.C. What follows is the fascinating history of the bikini, from its ancient origins to its modern, unabashed style.


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This article was published on 2011/04/04
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