A Brief History of Scuba Diving

As far back as recorded history goes, people have been drawn to and mystified by the ocean. Before the industrial age, however, if one wanted to explore what was beneath the surface of the ocean, one had to hold his or her breath, and could only explore for as long as they could hold their breath. The ocean has always provided human beings with a source of food, and since man discovered this, he has been working on ways to better explore that underwater world. Initially, humans held their breath to either explore or gather food, but eventually, hollow reeds were used. These reeds allowed swimmers to keep their heads under the surface, where they could view the underwater life to an extent, for an indefinite period of time. However, using hollow reeds would not allow the swimmer to submerge more than a couple of feet. Next, divers tried to use air bags. Unfortunately, this could not work because the air that was being breathed in from the bag was being exhaled back into the bag, and then inhaled again, causing the diver to breath in carbon dioxide. Air bags were followed by diving bells in the 16th century. The bottom portion of the bell contained water, but the upper portion contained air. The diver could hold his breath to dive, then return to the bell to rest and get air. It wasn’t until 1825 when William H. James made a huge advancement in the diving world. He designed a diving suit that was self contained and had compressed air, which was in an iron container that was to be strapped around one’s waist. In 1829, Charles and John Deane improved on this design, presenting the first air-pumped diving helmet to the world. As time marched on, divers kept improving on the older systems, and by 1865, the first diving regulator had been invented by Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze. Unfortunately, the equipment was all still so heavy that the diver did not actually dive into the ocean – he walked. By 1879 the first known rebreather was being used, and by 1905 the first rebreather that had metering valves that allowed for control of the oxygen supply was invented. By 1926, divers were actually swimming, instead of walking on the seabed floor, and in the 1930’s Guy Gilpatrick of France was swim diving with waterproof goggles. Swim fins also arrived on the scene, again in France. However in San Diego, California, the very first sport diving club, known as the Bottom Scratchers, was opened. Research and improvements continued, and finally, around 1953, thanks to an article that appeared in the National Geographic Magazine about Jacques Cousteau, the general public in the United States became interested in scuba diving. At this time, the breathing apparatus for scuba diving was called Aqualungs, and this gear was very expensive. Because diving suits were so rare during the war years, people often dived in their regular swimming attire and so scuba diving as we know it today was referred to as skin diving. The first wetsuit wasn’t actually introduced until 1956. Throughout the history of scuba diving in the United States and Canada, television shows and movies, such as Titanic, have made scuba diving even more popular. It seems that every time such a movie is released, there is a surge in the sale of scuba gear and lessons, as newer generations join the ranks of those who have a love for the world that hides beneath the surface of the water. Whether you are young or old, or you want to dive for pleasure or turn scuba diving into a full time career, every time you dive, you are continuing a quest that began when man first laid eyes on the ocean. You are part of a quest to discover what secrets that beautiful and mysterious underwater world holds. Will you discover a new breed of sea life? Will you discover a sunken pirate’s ship or an old cargo ship? What type of sea life will you find? One of the best things about scuba diving is that you can never be fully sure what is waiting to be discovered beneath the surface until you actually discover it. Even if you dive in the same area time and time again, you will see something new or different on each dive. The life within the ocean is only contained by the land that surrounds it – or that it surrounds. Other than that, there are no borders. Again, you will only be limited by the amount of air in your tank!


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