The history of scuba diving dates back to ancient times in early Greece and Rome. During this era, people used to swim or dive using hollow plant stems or other breathing tools that they had made. This was extremely useful in times of war or while gathering food and other resources from the ocean. Thanks to the contributions of many great inventors throughout the centuries, the history of scuba diving gear and techniques has advanced to what we know it as today.
Early History of Diving
The art of scuba diving is often thought to have its genesis in freediving. Freediving is based on an old subconscious reflex in human beings. For the first nine months of our lives, we live in an aquatic environment similar to seawater. Therefore, when an infant is submerged under water, they instinctively hold their breath and make swimming motions. This reflex is one of the most important elements of freediving, as it gives us the ability to survive at great depths. It seems that humans have longed for the innate ability to breathe underwater for millennia.
One of the first accounts of “scuba diving” or the art of breathing underwater is from 500 BC when archives indicated a Greek soldier dived off a ship and was able to breath for hours using a hollowed-out reed. As demonstrated, the history of scuba diving is very closely linked with the history of scuba equipment, which makes the sport possible.
The History of Scuba Diving Gear
Ancient Diving Equipment
The Greek philosopher Aristotle recorded the first use of “diving bells” in 4th century BC. According to his account, they used overturned cauldrons that were forced into the water so that it retained usable air for the diver. As early as the 1300s, Persian divers were making rudimentary eye goggles from thinly sliced and polished shells of tortoises. Ancient swimmers used cut hollow reeds as the first rudimentary snorkels to enhance underwater swimming abilities. This was just the beginning of the history of scuba diving gear.
In 1535, inventor Guglielmo de Lorena created a weighted chamber that was large enough for one person to stand in. The chamber was sealed, greased and had an exhaust valve to release used air and regular pressure. Then in 1691, scientist Edmund Halley patented a design for the first diving bell. The design, when dropped into the water with cables, acted as an air bubble for the person in the chamber. Then, a levy system made it possible for smaller chambers with fresh air to be brought down so that air could be piped into the bigger bell.
In 1771, John Smeaton, a British engineer invented the air pump. A hose was connected between the diving barrel and the air pump, which allowed air to be pumped to the diver. In 1772, Sieur Freminet invented a breathing device that recycled the exhaled air in the barrel. This became the first self-contained air device. However, Freminet died from a lack of oxygen after being in his own device for twenty minutes.
The first diving helmet was patented in 1826 by Charles Anthony and John Deane. Then in 1837, Augustus Siebe sealed that design of a helmet to a watertight diving suit which became the essential component of most diving expeditions. In 1865, an underwater breathing apparatus was invented. It was a simple design of a steel tank, filled with compressed air, connected to a valve and mouthpiece. The tank was then strapped to the diver’s back. A few years later, one of the first diving suits was built in 1873. It was rigid, had a safer air supply, but weighed more than 200 pounds.
In 1876, Englisman Henry Fleuss invented a closed oxygen rebreather, that was originally used to repair an iron door in a flooded ship. He then tried using it for a 30-foot dive underwater, which ultimately killed him. He died from oxygen toxicity.
1900s – Present
Beginning in the 19th century, two main areas of investigated greatly advanced scuba diving as we know it. The scientific research of Paul Bert and John Scott Haldene helped explain the effects of water pressure on the body, and also define safe limits for compressed air diving. Simultaneously, improvements in compressed air pumps, carbon dioxide scrubbers, and regulators made it possible for people to stay underwater for longer periods of time. Some of these technological innovations are explained below.
When you think of old school diving gear, The Mark V Diving Helmet probably comes to mind. Introduced in 1917, The Mark V weighed 25 kilograms or roughly 55 pounds and was largely used for salvage work during World War II. A self-contained underwater breathing unit was designed in 1925 by Yves le Prieur followed by rugger goggles, glass lenses, swim fins, face masks and snorkels in 1930.
Christian Lambersten developed a closed-circuit scuba system model in 1940, used to advance the US Navy in their efforts. Lambersten names his invention SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus), which then became the common term for all diving equipment.
In 1942, Jacques Cousteau and his business partner Emile Gagna invented the Aqua-Lung. This was one of the largest breakthroughs in the history of scuba diving gear. While this was not the first breathing apparatus, it became the most popular and brought diving into the mainstream. It was the Aqua-Lung that made people willing to explore the ocean just for fun. Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan are now known as the pioneers of research, filming, and undersea exploration using scuba gear. Some consider them the “father” of scuba diving as we know it today.
Modern scuba diving today has come a long way since the beginning of the history of scuba diving. Scuba diving gear basics typically consists of one or more gas tanks strapped to the divers back, connected to a demand regulator. This demand regulator controls the flow of air that that the pressure within the diver’s lungs equals the pressure of the water. But, the list of other essential scuba diving equipment doesn’t stop here. Essentials like fins, goggles, snorkels, wetsuit, diving mask, gloves, depth gauges, pressure gauges, and compasses are just some of the additions.
All of this equipment as we know it today, helps us achieve the scuba diving adventures that humans have always sought after. We’re fortunate that the long history of scuba diving gear development allows us to enjoy the sport in a much safer way than in centuries past.
Book Your Scuba Diving Trip Today
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