Mercedes Gleitze (18 November 1900 –
9 February 1981) was a
British professional swimmer. She was the first person
to swim the Straits of Gibraltar and the first British
woman to swim the English channel. The name of Mercedes
Gleitze was used to market Rolex's new waterproof case,
the "Oyster". She established endurance records for
swimming including a record of 46 hours in 1932. She was
able to raise funds to found the Mercedes Gleitze Homes
in Leicester via sponsorship for homeless people. The
Mercedes Gleitze charity is now linked to the Family
bilingual background and education Gleitze became a
secretary and stenographer in central London exploiting
her talent for languages. In her spare time she started
swimming in the River Thames. Her first significant
record was for 10 hr 45 min she spent swimming in the
Thames. This was the longest time for a woman in 1923.
She attracted attention when, at the eighth attempt, she
became the first English woman to swim the English
Channel, on 7 October 1927.The record was in doubt when
in the following days another woman claimed to have swum
the channel faster. Her version of events proved to
be a fabrication but the effect of this hoax undermined
pressure from the media she agreed to undertake a
"vindication swim" even though the water was much colder
than when Channel swimming is normally attempted.
Gleitze failed to complete the swim but her endurance of
the cold convinced all that the original record should
stand. Gleitze made not only her name but also that of
Rolex's Oyster watch. The watch withstood her second
swim and this was used to launch an advertising campaign
in Britain. Rolex still uses Gleitze's name in their
was sponsored for these record attempts and in 1928 she
was able to open the first Mercedes Gleitze Home in
1933. This was a large house in Leicester that was
converted into flats for homeless families. She was
supported in her work by the Rotary Club which was
undertaking a scheme to move unemployed people from the
north of England to Leicester where they could find
work. Gleitze continued to break records and she became
the first person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar
between Europe and Africa.
travelled to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to
establish new records for swimming. Besides swimming the
100 miles around the Isle of Man and becoming the first
person to swim to Robben Island and back to Cape Town
she also staged feats of endurance swimming.
first took the endurance swimming record it stood at 26
hours. Over several years she extended this record in
public swimming baths where crowds would attend and
encourage her by singing together.
married engineer Patrick Carey in Dover in 1930 with the
American swimming twins Bernice and Phyllis Zittenfeld
as bridesmaids. The ceremony was covered by British
newsreels where Gleitze announced that she was off to
swim the Hellespont instead of going on honeymoon.
Gleitze continued to extend her endurance record to 45
hours the following year. In 1932 she retired after
again extending the record finally to 46 hours.
had three children and died aged 80 on 9 February 1981
in a hospital in London.