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Who Invented SCUBA Diving?

   July 8th, 2022   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

Who Discovered SCUBA Diving?

Who invented SCUBA diving? You might think the answer to this question is Jacques Cousteau, but he and Emile Gagnan are not the first people to SCUBA dive underwater. Several important people helped develop the ideas and equipment that led to the ability to SCUBA dive today.

History of the Invention of SCUBA Diving

Over hundreds of years and maybe even longer, people have been intrigued by the underwater world. Many early pioneers found interesting ways of getting underwater and can be credited with discovering SCUBA diving. So who actually invented SCUBA diving? This is a question that we can take back a long time ago, but we will start in the 1600’s.

1600’s

Guglielmo de Loreno developed a diving bell. The diving bell was essentially an upside-down bucket with air trapped inside that the diver could breathe from. There was a glass window to allow the diver to see out. Air pumps and weighted diving bells were further developed with an air pipe attached to the surface. Edmund Harley was given the patent for this invention.

1700’s

In the 1700’s, John Lethbridge invented an air pipe that had compressed air delivered to an underwater cylinder. Finally with this device, a diver could be underwater for 30 minutes. 

1800’s

In the 1800’s, Henry Fleuss developed the first self-contained diving rig. This device gave the ability to stay underwater for up to 3 hours. The invention of SCUBA diving really took off from here. In 1826, the diving helmet was patented by Charles Anthony and John Deane. However, this helmet was open to the water environment.

Augustus Siebe took the design and developed the diving helmet into a watertight seal with a diving suit in 1837. Finally in 1865, Benoit Rouquaytol and Auguste Denayrouse invented the first official underwater breathing apparatus. Compressed air was placed into a steel tank with a mouthpiece attached. Using straps, the tank was attached to the diver’s back.

1900’s

In the 1900’s, the invention of SCUBA diving continued to thrive. The Mark V diving helmet was first introduced in 1917 and used by Navy divers. In 1921, Harry Houdini invented a SCUBA suit to allow his artists to escape underwater during shows. Yves Le Prieur invented a full self-contained underwater breathing suit in 1925. His invention included a high pressure tank with a demand valve. This was the first system that was independent from any surface supplied air. In 1940, Christian Lambertsen invented the first device to actually be called ‘SCUBA’. It was a self-contained underwater oxygen breathing apparatus that was a rebreather.

The first open-circuit breathing SCUBA set was developed in 1943 by Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan. This was the first modern demand regulator and was called the Aqualung. The Aqualung has been further developed into what SCUBA divers use today and is why when people think of who invented SCUBA diving, they think of Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan.

Other Inventions in SCUBA Diving

Besides the invention of a system to breathe underwater, other pieces of equipment for SCUBA divers began to be developed. By 1930, Guy Gilpatric invented rubber goggles with glass lenses. Masks and snorkels were invented shortly after. The invention of SCUBA fins came just after masks and snorkels in 1933 by Louisde Corlieu. Wetsuits were not developed until 1956. It is hard to believe it took so long to figure out how to stay warm underwater.

In 1970, the buoyancy compensator device, BCD, was invented. In 1983, dive computers were first introduced. Today, SCUBA diving equipment has evolved from all of these early pioneers who invented SCUBA diving.

Hollywood Influence on SCUBA Diving

The world began to understand and learn more about SCUBA diving when the T.V. series Sea Hunt came out in 1957. In 1965, James Bonds’ Thunderball was released and featured SCUBA diving which turned the world’s eyes on the possibility of SCUBA diving themselves. Afterwards, many SCUBA diving organizations began to be developed. NAUI was founded in 1959 followed by PADI in 1966. Today, there are many organizations around the world that teach people how to dive.

In the end, ‘who invented SCUBA diving?’ is a matter of defining your terms. Most people will say Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan are the true inventors of a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus that was termed ‘SCUBA’. However, the idea of being underwater to explore has developed over hundreds of years with many people eager to understand the ocean.

Candace is an avid scuba diver and freelance writer with a PhD in Biomedicine. She has been diving since 2002 and is currently a PADI IDC Staff Instructor. When she is not instructing, she enjoys writing about scuba and volunteering at the local aquarium where she dives with the sharks!

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