SCUBA is an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus and is used by divers to dive deep under the surface of the water. It is used for a variety of different purposes including diving reefs, wrecks and it is also used by civilian, military and emergency services officers for a variety of work-related activities. Prior to the invention of SCUBA equipment underwater divers would have to be attached to an oxygen hose which would provide the diver with air. This made swimming underwater difficult and sometimes accidents occurred with the supply hose. Other types of diving gear also had trouble regulating the oxygen for the diver to breathe.
The Development of SCUBA gear
The two people who are credited with the invention of self-contained diving equipment are Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan. However, before they invented their system much work and development had occurred in the area of diving equipment. Many inventors spent time trying to devise a safe and practical way that people could breathe under the water and withstand the enormous pressure of different water depths.
Many of the early dive suits where not autonomous and required air to be pumped down through a hose to the diver. In 1772 a French inventor named Sieur Freminet invented a rebreathing device. This devise was suppose to recycle the air inside the barrel allowing the diver more time underwater, Unfortunately it was not a very successful invention and Sieur Freminet died from lack of oxygen while using his invention.
The next development in diving gear was in 1825 by an English inventor named William James who created a helmet attached to an iron belt that could hold up to seven minutes of pressurized air. In 1876 another Englishman invented a diving suit that was purposed to be used to repair ship doors that were underwater. Henry Fleuss used his invention for a 30 foot dive and died due to acute oxygen poisoning. This occurred because oxygen that is placed under pressure is poisonous to humans.
In the 1860’s Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouse worked together to design a diving suit that allowed divers to stay underwater for 30 minutes at a time. It was very large and heavy and it didn’t prove to be very popular.
The first diving equipment to resemble what we recognize today was developed by the Japanese Ohgushi in 1918 and the Frenchmen Maurice Fernez and Yves le Prieur in 1926. Both provided a constant flow of air to the diver rather than supplying air only the diver took a breath. The Fernez-Le Prieur apparatus was mass produced during the 1930s and used by the French navy and by recreational SCUBA diving clubs.
After his own personal use of the Fernez-Le Prieur apparatus, Jacques-Yves Cousteau together with Emile Gagnan worked on inventing a way to regulate the air flow to the diver. In 1943 they invented the modern regulator which is now used in all SCUBA diving equipment after reworking a pressure regulator that Gagnan had developed to run cars on vegetable oil. The regulator was used to send compressed air at the correct pressure to the diver whilst they were under the water. This allowed the pressure of the air to be equal to that of the pressure on the diver’s chest stopping oxygen poisoning. They named their equipment the Aqua-Lung.