We humans, probably secretly envious of fish with their ability to breathe underwater, have forever dreamed of this possibility and its resulting freedom from familiar bonds of gravity.
In 1943, the Aqualung was invented by Frenchmen Jacques Cousteau and the brilliant engineer Emile Gagnan. The year was epic in the development of underwater exploration.
The Aqualung was the first completely automatic underwater breathing device: for the first time, utilizing this patented regulator and two-hose system, a diver could breathe through an open-circuit air system that supplied air on demand. No more manual on-off valves or precious air-wasting continuous flow.
Cousteau licensed the design to numerous American companies in the late 40s and 50s. In Southern California and Florida, along with intense marketing from Voit, Dacor, Healthways and US Diver, the sport really took off. With time—and with trademark conflicts—the name SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) as coined by the US Navy, became synonymous with Aqualung.
Hollywood soon dived in with the television series Sea Hunt, launched in 1958—a further boon to the diving industry. It generated thousands of new enthusiasts including a host of Baby Boomers who grew up watching the show. Also very popular internationally were the TV series documentaries first broadcast in 1966 and filmed by Cousteau, Under the Sea, The World About Us, The Cousteau Odyssey, and The World of Jacques Cousteau.
Respected as an outspoken environmentalist—particularly noted for his uncompromising stand on issues such as oil pollution and nuclear waste—the prolific filmmaker, photographer, and writer Jacques Cousteau will be remembered best for his profound influence on the world’s awareness of what lies beneath our oceans.