Written By: Lily Rothman, Liz Ronk

On the Fourth of July weekend, Americans all over will celebrate with parades, barbecues and pool parties. But, for those looking for a more unusual way to do something festive on a summer weekend, perhaps inspiration can be found in this photo essay by Alfred Eisenstaedt, which ran in the July 21,1941, issue of LIFE Magazine.

That summer, on a Sunday right around Independence Day, the photographer traveled to Somerset, Wis., where a man named David Breault, owner of the Terrance Nite Club, had turned the nearby Apple River into a gold mine.

On that day, about 200 people had been supplied with inner tubes, on which they floated down the river, drinking beer and, when the current allowed, finding time to steal a kiss. After about 45 minutes, they came to a stopping point, where a Terrance Night Club truck would pick them up and bring them back to the starting point. If they wanted to go again, they could. The club provided the tubes for free, but it was worth the expense: Breault reported to LIFE that his business had multiplied by three since they began doing so.

Though the activity might not seem so unusual to today’s summer celebrants—the “floating party” was essentially a lazy-river amusement park ride created by nature—it’s noteworthy that LIFE’s write-up of the activity expressed surprise and delight at the idea that Breault had “innovated the unique pastime of mass inner-tube floating.”

It wasn’t until 1966 that TIME credited Thailand’s Princess Chumbhot of Nagar Svarga as “inventor of the sport of tubing.” Sports Illustrated, the year before, had provided a little more detail on how it had happened: the princess had brought about 100 tubes to her country estate and invited her friends to join her in riding them down a river, but “when news of the fun got out in a Siamese TV show, people began flocking to southern Nakhon Nay province by the hundreds, hoping to join in.”

Though the princess may well have given inner-tubing international renown as a sport, she must share some credit with David Breault of Wisconsin, an American tubbing pioneer. As these photos make clear,  there’s room enough at the party for everyone.

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Toward the end of the two-mile stretch, drifters became jammed up, snagged on reeds, and slipped off tubes.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Floaters made their way to the river, passing by the circular building at the left, which was an outdoor bar built around a tree.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

The floaters walked down two long, steep wooden staircases to the river.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Inexperienced at steering and stopping, couples often got separated and ended up floating beside new acquaintances.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Kissing in tubes was not easy, so interested parties tended to park in the reeds.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Beer-drinking was the most popular pastime of Apple River’s inner-tube floaters, such as Mr. and Mrs. Bud Klingen of Minneapolis who shared a bottle.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Some took photos despite the risk of getting their camera wet.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Music on the water.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Playing bridge, drifting down the river.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.``

This pair went aground on a sand bar but didn’t seem to mind.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

At the end of the run, William J. Braun of St. Paul, Minn. hauled himself out of the water using a rope that spanned the river.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Floaters were taken back to the club by truck, many wanting to go again.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A floating party on the Apple River in Somerset, Wisconsin in 1941.

Back on dry land

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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