The first plan for a hovercraft was made, but it was never made because no human effort lifted it. This design was create by Emanuel Swedenborg.
British Engineer, John Isaac Thornycroft built ground effect test models.
Col. Melville W. Beardsley (1913-1998), an American inventor and aeronautical engineer, along with Dr. W. Bertelsen worked on developing early ACV's in the USA. It was not until 1952 that the inventor Christopher Cockerell designed a vehicle based on his 'hovercraft principle'. This was the missing link everyone else had not seen and made a commercial craft possible. He was knighted for his services to engineering in 1969 for his work on the Hovercraft. Sir Christopher even invented the word 'Hovercraft' to describe his invention.
In 1915, Dagobert Müller built the world's first air-cushion "water-effect" vehicle.
Later in the 1920's a Swede developed an improvement on the ice sledge by propelling it with an air propeller in such a way as to get ram airlift on his platform. Further development was not continued.
Theoretical grounds for motion over an air layer were constructed by Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskii. He devised the first description of how hovercrafts work in his paper Air Resistance and the Express Train.
The first design that would be recognized as a true hovercraft was designed by Finnish aero engineer Toivo J. Kaario.
The hovercraft was originally tested in 1955 using an empty KiteKat cat food tin inside a coffee tin (an industrial air blower and a pair of kitchen scales).
The hovercraft was first invented in 1956 by Christopher Cockerell.
Ford made a hovercar in 1959 called the "Glideair", but it was never released for many reasons.
The British aircraft manufacturer Saunders Roe which had aeronautical expertise developed the first practical man-carrying hovercraft, the SR-N1, which carried out several test programmes in 1959 to 1961 (the first public demonstration in 1959), including a cross-channel run. The SR-N1 was powered by one (piston) engine, driven by expelled air, and could carry little more than its own weight and two men,and did not have any skirt at first trials. It was found that the craft's lift was improved by the addition of a 'skirt' of flexible fabric or rubber around the hovering surface, to contain the air. The skirt was an independent invention made by a Royal Navy officer who worked with Sir Christopher to develop the idea further.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jean Bertin developed a hovercraft train dubbed the Aérotrain in France. His I-80 prototype established the world speed record for overland air cushion vehicles with a mean speed of 417.6 km/h (260 mp/h) and a top speed of 430 km/h (267 mp/h).
The first true passenger-carrying hovercraft was the Vickers VA-3, which in the summer of 1961 carried passengers regularly along the North Wales Coast from Wallasey to Rhyl. It was powered by two turboprop aero-engines and driven by propellers.
By 1970 the largest British hovercraft were in service, the Mountbatten class SR-N4 model, each powered by four Rolls-Royce Proteus engines, regularly carrying cars and passengers across the English Channel from Dover or Ramsgate to Calais. This service ceased in 2000 after years of competition with traditional ferries, catamarans, and the opening of the Channel tunnel.
The Princess Anne holds the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel, travelling the 23 miles (37km) between Calais and Dover in only 22 minutes. This hovercraft holds the Guinness Hovercraft World Speed Record of 85.376 mph by Bob Windt.
In 1998, the US Postal Service began using the British built Hoverwork AP.1-88 to haul mail, freight, and passengers from Bethel, Alaska to and from eight small villages along the Kuskokwim River. Bethel is far removed from the Alaska road system, thus making the hovercraft an attractive alternative to the air based delivery methods used prior to introduction of the hovercraft service. Hovercraft service is suspended for several weeks each year while the river is beginning to freeze to minimize damage to the river ice surface. The hovercraft is perfectly able to operate during the freeze-up period, however, it could potentially break the ice creating hazards for the villagers using their snowmobiles for transportation along the river during the early winter.