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Who Invented
SCUBA the Regulator?

Who really invented scuba? Most divers and Instructors alike would say that Jacques Cousteau invented regulators and Scuba. I was asked this question during a recent Basic Scuba Diver Course. My standard answer has always been Jacques Cousteau, but this time the student asked what year it was that he invented the regulator and Scuba. Well, being Bwana, King of the sea, and ruler of the knights of the square table, I had to find out.

Diving was limited to one breath until the 16th century when upside down barrels were used as primitive diving bells, and the first multi-breath dive was made. This was a tremendous leap forward, and certainly an efficient solution.

In 1771, John Smeaton; a British engineer, invented the air pump. This allowed hoses to be connected to the barrels.

In 1772, Sieur Freminet, a French scientist, designed a "rebreathing" device that actually recycled the exhaled air inside of the barrel. He, of course, died from lack of oxygen after about 25 minutes. But it sparked an interest in the self-contained air concept.

In 1825, William James, an English inventor, designed a self-contained apparatus. It was a cylindrical iron "belt" that held 450 psi of air, which free flowed into a copper helmet. . Wonderful idea, but his self-contained underwater dive only lasted 7 minutes at 11 feet.

In 1864 Benoit Rouquayrol, a French Engineer, and August Denayrouze, a French naval officer, developed a surface-supplied system that included an air reservoir and a demand regulator. Unfortunately, the reservoir wasn't high pressure, and held only enough air for one breath. Humm …

In 1876 Henry Fleuss, an English sailor, invented a closed-circuit oxygen rebreather. Fleuss’ design was used to repair an iron door in a flooded chamber of his ship. His rebreather demonstrated the usefulness of self-contained diving. After completing his task of repairing and saving the ship, he donned his new invention and descended to the bottom and died from the toxic effects of pure oxygen below 30 feet.

In 1926 Yves Leprieur, a French naval officer, invented a system using a 2,000-psi steel tank which free-flowed into a full-face mask.

In 1937 Georges Comheines, a Frenchman, apparently invented a demand-flow system based on a modified fire fighting apparatus. Sadly he died during the testing of the unit, and his design was soon forgotten.

In 1939, in response to the upcoming world war, Dr. Christian Lambertsen, an American professor, developed a self-contained underwater oxygen breathing apparatus . It was the American military that named this the clandestine (or top secret) system SCUBA. It worked quite well for shallow depths, but at deeper depths, many of the divers died from oxygen toxicity, and the project was dropped.

In 1942, Emile Gagnan, a French engineer, and Jacques Cousteau, a French naval officer, developed a simple demand regulator. This regulator was based on research Gagnan had done to convert automobiles from gasoline to cooking oil. Their regulator, when combined with three cylinders, each holding 2,500 psi of air, was dubbed the "Aqua-lung". (And no, he didn't know Jethro Tull!)

In 1951 E.R. Cross, and American diver, invented the first single-hose regulator. This design was based on an oxygen system used by aviators, and was quickly copied.

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