The History of Scuba Diving
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The History of Scuba Diving

How Diving Has Evolved Through the Ages



The history of scuba diving is the story of how man has searched for a way to break free of the limitations of breath-hold diving. Evidence of breath-hold diving has been recorded as far back as 3000 BC.

Crude hollow reed breathing tubes and diving bells have evolved into what we know as modern scuba. Now divers can stay submerged longer because they can carry their own air supply.

I find the best way to understand the history of scuba is to look at a diving time line.




Key Dates:


3000 BC-The history of scuba diving begins with early divers using breath-hold diving to harvest oysters. They developed a bone deformity today known as surfer's ear. This was due to frequent exposure to cold water.


1250 BC-In the Iliad Homer refers to military divers in the Trojan War.


500 BC-A Greek diver Scyllias used a reed snorkel to attack Persian ships in Syracuse.


332 BC-Aristotle records the use of the first diving bell. Alexander the Great descends to the seabed inside a glass barrel during the siege of Tyre.


Alexander's Glass Diving Bell


1500-Leonardo da Vinci designs equipment for exploring underwater. There is no evidence that he ever tested his self-contained-underwater-breathing-apparatus (SCUBA).


1600-Robert Boyle studies the relationship between water pressure and gas volumes. This is known as Boyle's Law.


1691-Edmund Halley designs a diving bell with a glass top to admit light. He used barrels lowered from the surface to replenish the air inside the bell. Divers could use an air hose that was tethered to the inside of the bell to explore short distances outside.


1715-John Lethbridge, an English inventor, uses a pressure-proof wooden barrel to become the first successful salvage diver. The barrel had a glass viewing porthole and watertight leather sleeves. These allowed the diver to see and retrieve items from depths up to 60 ft/18m.


1779-Englishman John Smeaton develops a pump system that supplies fresh air to diving bells.


1829-British salvage operators John and Charles Dean develop a diving helmet made from a firefighting helmet into which air could be pumped.


1840-A German inventor, Augustus Siebe develops a closed dress diving suit. The suit was made up of a diving helmet sealed to a waterproof canvas suit. The helmet had an exhaust valve that allowed air to be pumped into the suit from the surface. For more than a 100 years this closed dress diving suit was standard for deep sea divers and a landmark in the history of scuba diving.


1865-The first compressed air breathing apparatus with a demand system was developed by two French inventors, Benoit Rouquayrol and August Denayrouze. This allowed short periods of diving without an air line to the surface.


1878-The first fully independent breathing apparatus was designed by English merchant seaman Henry Fleuss. The apparatus used compressed oxygen as a breathing gas.


1878-Breathing compressed air at depth for long periods of time is determined to be the cause of Caissons Disease (this is now known as Decompression Sickness). This is first studied by French scientist Paul Bert.


1893-Frenchman Louis Boutan develops the first underwater camera.


22 Vintage Scuba Equipment


The evolution of scuba diving equipment continues into the 20th century with the development of neoprene dive suits, rubber fins, underwater cameras and advances in breathing respirators.


1908-After studying the effects of gas poisoning and decompression sickness, J. S. Haldane develops the first dive tables. Divers are able to dive to 210ft/65m. They avoid DCS by performing decompression stops.


1911-The German company Drager builds and markets oxygen rebreathers. Rebreathers are used by the military in both World Wars to avoid telltale bubble trails.


1925-Yves Le Prieur, a French naval officer, designs and builds an open circuit compressed air respirator. This non-cycling respirator in considered to be the forerunner of modern scuba.


1930-William Beebe descends to a depth of 1,426 ft/435m in a bathysphere. This diving vehicle is tethered and launched from a ship. In 1934, the bathysphere reaches a depth of almost 3000ft/925m.


1933-Louis de Cortieu, a French inventor, develops rubber fins to help in swimming underwater.


1941-Italian navy divers use rebreathers to attack allied ships during WWII.


On the horizon a French naval officer stands ready to make a major contribution to the history of scuba diving. This mans research changes scuba diving from a military exercise to a recreational sport that today is enjoyed by millions of diver's world wide.


1942-Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagan develop a compressed air breathing apparatus with a demand valve that supplies air to the diver with the slightest inhale. The Aqua-Lung, as it was known, when on sale in France in 1945. By the 1950's the Aqua-Lung could be purchased world wide.


1948-Jacques Cousteau's Aqua-Lung goes on sale in the U. S.


Aqua Lung


1953-The first neoprene wet suit is developed for the U. S. Navy by Dr. Hugh Bradner.


1956-The diving film "The Silent World" by Jacques Cousteau earns its place in the history of scuba diving by winning the Golden Palm at the Caans film Festival and an Academy Award.


1959-The YMCA organizes the first national scuba diving training program in the U. S.


The history of scuba diving witnesses a boom-time in the 1960's with the invention of the Aqua-Lung, the price of scuba diving equipment falling and the organization of formal training for recreational diving.


1961-The first buoyancy compensator was invented by Frenchman Maurice Fenzy. This was the first BC to be available for purchase by the general public.


1966-The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is founded by John Cronin and Ralph Erickson. This organization specializes in recreational diving.


1968-John Gruener and Neal Watson use compressed air to dive to a depth of 437 ft/133 m.


1979-Sylvia Earl descends to a depth of 1250 ft/381 m in a special pressure suit and walks untethered on the ocean floor.


1980-A non-profit organization that promotes diving safety, Divers Alert Network, is founded at Duke University in Durham N. C.


1983-The Orca Edge, the first commercially available dive computer, goes on sale.


1999-Mark Andrews, a British diver, descends to 500 ft/152 m on compressed air.


2003-Mark Elliot, a British diver, descends to 1,024 ft/152 m breathing Trimix, a gas mixture for scuba diving.


As recreational diving develops, more emphasis is put on training, safety and the protection of the underwater world.


The history of scuba diving has evolved from hollow reed breathing tubes and diving bells to rebreathers and submersible diving vehicles. With advances in technology and our knowledge of the human body there is no limit to how deep we can dive.

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