Although they were not used as boats, ancient peoples used pontoons for various transportation needs. The ancient Greek poet Homer mentions the use of pontoons in his writings that date back to 800 BC and describes how the Greeks used them to create bridges for marching armies. King Wen of Zhou, the ancient ruler of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty, used a pontoon bridge in the 11 th century BC and the Chinese used pontoon bridges extensively in other military engagements. In 482 BC, the Persian King Xerxes needed to transport an army numbering 400,000 across the strait of Dardanelles and his engineers obliged by constructing a pontoon bridge over a mile long. Famously, Cyrus the Great used animal skin-covered pontoons in 536 BC to get his Persian forces to pivotal historical battles.
These ancient uses of pontoons set precedence for the military use of pontoons as temporary bridges. The U.S. Army has used pontoons for bridges starting as early as 1846 when U.S. engineers experimented with rubberized pontoons for flotation. The Union General F.P. Blair used a rubberized pontoon bridge in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. In 1941, the U.S. Army started using collapsible pontoons with rubber fabric and the U.S. Navy started using pontoons for ship-to-shore transportation. In fact, military leaders on every side of the conflicts in both World Wars used pontoon bridges to transport their forces.
The use of pontoons for bridges has found civilian applications as well. Permanent bridges have been built across America that use pontoons for flotation. Several pontoon bridges currently span the Mississippi River. Pontoon bridges are especially suited to locations where a river is narrow and it is difficult to sink a pier. Also, much like pontoon boats, pontoon bridges are often utilized in shallow waters.
Ancient Polynesians were the forerunners of the design of the pontoon boat. Through trial and error, this ancient people found that two logs tied together reduce the possibility of capsizing and discovered that hollowing out the logs greatly added to the buoyancy of the pontoon boat. These discoveries led to a phenomenal sailing culture and to this day, the Polynesians are regarded as some of the most accomplished mariners in history. Their multihull designs inspired many pontoon boat designs still popular today, such as the catamaran.
This excerpt was taken from a longer article on - http://www.restorepontoon.com/