History of Floating

Learn about the origins of floating, its inventor, and how it has developed over time.

The Evolution of the Float Industry

Float Tank (a.k.a. Flotation Tank, Float Room/Pod/Spa/Chamber, Isolation Tank, Sensory Deprivation Tank, Floatation REST, Floatation Therapy)

A tub that contains a saturated solution of Epsom salt, provides a light and sound reduced environment, and is kept at skin temperature. This environment allows a person to float effortlessly without external stimuli for many purposes, including meditation, exploration, relaxation, and physical therapy.

1954
The first float tank
By 1954, John C. Lilly had built the first sensory isolation immersion tank at the National Institute of Mental Health Lab in Maryland with his associate, Dr. Jay Shurley. He saw the tanks, in which users are isolated from almost all external stimuli, as a means to explore the nature of human consciousness.
1954
1958
the Virgin Islands Dolphin research
In 1958, Dr. Lilly left the National Institute for Mental Health to start work in the Virgin Islands. He was deeply interested in dolphins and started a lab there to better understand their behaviours and habits. Still engaging in self-experimentation, Dr. Lilly constructed a new version of his isolation tank, which allowed the user to float on the surface using sea water.
1958
1961
studies at Princeton university
In 1961, Dr. Peter Suedfeld took over the sensory deprivation studies at Princeton university. He had seen the results of participants coming out of the early research environment and suspected that the negative feedback could be attributed to the laboratory conditions.
1961
1064
self-experimenting in the float tank
In the ‘60s, LSD became popular in medical centres and research circles, and in 1964 Dr. Lilly began self-experimenting with it inside his isolation tank. He found these experiments deeply gratifying and ended up writing several books that discuss his experiences. The first, Programming and Meta-programming in the Human Biocomputer, came out in 1968, followed by an autobiography, Centre of the Cyclone, four years later.
1064
1971
techniques were wrongly linked to sensory deprivation studies
Outside of clinical research, both float tanks and sensory deprivation were practically unknown or, at best, poorly understood. In 1971, a report exposed that the British Government had committed acts of illegal detention and torture of members of the IRA. The report outlined five techniques they used: hooding, white noise, wall standing, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and drink. These techniques were wrongly linked to sensory deprivation studies and caused severe controversy around the practice.
1971
1972
Tank development
Glenn Perry and Dr. Lilly worked together to develop the tank, and they designed many of the fundamental aspects seen today in modern float tanks: a light proof enclosure, adding salt to increase buoyancy, and creating an angled hatch to help reduce condensation buildup.
1972
1979
The First Float Centre
It wasn’t until 1979 that the first float centre opened: a 5-tank centre in Beverly Hills run by Samadhi. The rumour mill had been kind to floating as a practice, and the centre was an immediate success that was quickly emulated.
1979
Early 1980's
The Boom
The 80’s truly became a decade of growth for the float industry. The Samadhi Company went on to open a 20 tank centre in San Francisco that doubled as a showroom for their tanks, and they were completely booked out for weeks at a time. It was also during this time that a U.S. Float Tank Association was formed, the first organisation to represent the floatation industry.
Early 1980's
1980's
Research on floatings effects on stress relief
New research exploded as well. After learning about some of the unusual claims made by Dr. Lilly in The Deep Self, Drs. Thomas Fine and John Turner at the Medical College of Ohio started testing the float tank’s effect on stress relief. They were the first researchers to study biometrics from participants while they were inside a float tank. These new results were incredibly exciting and led to much greater interest in floatation as a field of study.
1980's
Mid 80's
Hysteria and the U.S. Decline
The growth and expansion of floating was short lived in the U.S., however, as the industry experienced a sharp decline during the AIDS epidemic. After it was revealed that Rock Hudson had the disease, panic became widespread about who could be infected, and fear of communal water became rampant. The pool and spa industries were hit hard, and while pools and spas were widespread enough to bounce back, this was not true of floatation.
Mid 80's
1990's
Global Perspective
During the early 90’s centres in the U.S. continued to downsize and close down, and the industry as a whole went into a state of dormancy. With few exceptions, new centres just weren’t opening in North America.
1990's
2000's
Regrowth
Once again, celebrity endorsement revitalised the industry. A very vocal Joe Rogan floated for the first time in 2006 and immediately began advocating their use. His podcast offered in depth testimony to his floating experiences, bringing in a new generation of professional athletes and psychonauts to the float tanks. His continued advocacy has been one of the largest contributing factors to the revitalisation of floatation in the United States and he is regularly cited by float centres as their motivation for joining the industry.
2000's
2010's
2nd Boom
The European float community didn’t experience the same setbacks as in the U.S. did, and continues to be a staple in the commercial relaxation industry. At the beginning of 2010, London had the largest float centre in the world at the time and the only laboratory research being done was out of Sweden.
2010's
2013
Float Clinic Research
In 2013, Dr. Justin Feinstein opened the Float Clinic at the Laureate Institute of Brain Research (LIBR), dedicated to understanding the effects of floatation therapy. It is an incredibly advanced centre, incorporating fMRI scans before and after the floats. LIBR is producing, by far, the most well-funded and rigorous research to date, helping to demystify the benefits of float tanks through controlled studies.
2013
Today
New Generation
While there has been a significant boom in the United States and Canada, more centres are opening in the U.K. and Australia as well. This new generation of float centre owners come from all walks of life, many seeing the emerging field as an alternative to being corporate accountants, marketers, real estate agents, etc.
Today

Types of Float Tanks