This timeline is meant only as a short overview of some of the major events of sport diving history. It was compiled by Thomas Tillman.
1878 – A self-contained underwater breathing unit unit is invented by Henry Fleuss.
1893 – The first underwater camera is invented by Louis Boutan.
1911 – Draeger of Germany releases an oxygen rebreather.
1923 – The first underwater color photographs were taken by W. H. Longley.
1925 – Yves Le Prieur releases a very successful self-contained underwater breathing unit.
1933 – The Bottom Scratchers of San Diego was founded by Ben Stone, Jack Prodanovich, and Glen Orr. This group became the first in an era when diving clubs were vastly popular. Across the country, many clubs followed in the years to come. Members of the early Bottom Scratchers also included Wally Potts, Jack Corbley, Bill Batzloff, Lamar Boren and Jim Stewart.
1933 – Louis Ce Corlieu patents the first swim fins in France and later in the US.
1935 – Louis de Corlieu designed a very popular fin for the free diving community.
1938 – The Compleat Goggler by Guy Gilpatric is released. This book becomes a popular inspiration for skin divers.
1943 – Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan design and test the first Aqua-Lung. This device is a vast improvement on earlier SCUBA devices and will completely change the sport diving community over the next decade. Early testers of the first prototypes included Philippe Tailliez, Frédéric Dumas, Simone Cousteau, Philippe Cousteau, and Jean-Michel Cousteau.
1946 – Mar-Vel Underwater Equipment was founded and would become an early source for skin and scuba diving equipment as well as the commercial equipment that they specialize in.
1948 – Rene’s Sporting Goods in Westwood, CA imports some of the new Aqua-Lungs to the U.S. Rene Bussoz, a relative of Cousteau, sold these first Aqua-Lungs and word began to spread within the diving community. While it is certain that some very influential early divers owned and used this first few Aqua-Lungs imported it is a sad fact that more individuals claim to have bought them from Rene than he had stock to fulfill. Careful research was done by Zale Parry and Al Tillman on this matter and their results will appear in Scuba America: The History of Sport Diving in America.
1949 – Several shops across the U.S. are now selling Aqua-Lungs.
1950 – The International Underwater Spearfishing Association was founded. The primary person responsible in the United States was Ralph Davis. The first U.S. National Underwater Spearfishing Championships were also held that year.
1951 – Many stores specifically dedicated to the sport of diving were opened nationally.
1951 – Skin Diver Magazine was formed by Chuck Blakeslee and Jim Auxier. The magazine became the central source for information on the industry. Chuck and Jim were both avid divers and put much of the magazine’s profits toward improving the sport. Among the projects they funded or created over the years were the first sport diving museum, The National Diving Patrol, NAUI, The International Underwater Film Festivals, the Hannes Keller dive, and many other early projects and events.
1951 – The Reserve Valve (later designated “J” valve by U.S. Divers according to its placement in their 1953 catalog) was released.
1951 – Hans Hass publishes Diving to Adventure and inspires many newcomers to the underwater world.
1952 – Silent World was released by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Frédéric Dumas, and James Dugan. Silent World tells the story of the invention and underwater adventures of the early Aqua-Lung and becomes one of the most influential books in bringing new people to the sport of SCUBA diving. Many skin divers decide to buy an Aqua-Lung based on this book.
1953 – Popular Science gives directions on how to make your own scuba equipment using surplus military parts.
1953 – E.R. Cross publishes the immensely popular Underwater Safety.
1953 – Los Angeles Sports Director Al Tillman and Lifeguard Bev Morgan are sent by Los Angeles County to attend a scientific diver course taught by Connie Limbaugh at Scripps Institute. Connie was famous in the diving industry and was even called the “Greatest Diver in History” by Skin Diver Magazine. The informal course covered everything from surfing and underwater explosives to SCUBA and first aid along with the scientific aspects of diving.
1954 – Al Tillman and Bev Morgan develop the first public skin and scuba diver education program in the United States. The Los Angeles County program quickly becomes the template for all programs that were to follow.
1954 – The Science of Skin and Scuba Diving is published by the Council for National Cooperation in Aquatics. This becomes the cornerstone textbook for diver education.
1954 – The television program Kingdom of the Sea starring Zale Parry is aired. Parry becomes a national celebrity, especially within the diving industry. That same year Parry also broke the depth record by diving to 209 feet near Catalina, CA – only stopping because she hit bottom. After the show and the record dive she becomes a hero to women around the world and many new female divers join the sport.
1955 – Due to the massive popularity of the Los Angeles County program Tillman and Morgan create the first formal instructor certification program. Many famous divers were brought in to both teach and become certified.
1956 – The first wetsuit was introduced by researchers at the University of California. Edco produces the first suits.
1956 – Ted Nixon introduces the red and white “Divers Down” flag.
1957 – Al Tillman and Zale Parry organize the first International Underwater Film Festival. Subsequent festivals were held in various cities around the world.
1958 – Sherwood Manufacturing releases the piston regulator.
1958 – Sea Hunt airs and becomes the driving force in bringing in unprecedented numbers of new divers to the sport. The show stars Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson and is produced by veteran producer Ivan Tors. Famous divers including Zale Parry, Lamar Boren, and Al Tillman work in front of or behind the cameras on the show.
1959 – The YMCA develops the first national diver certification program.
1959 – The Underwater Society of America was formed.
1960 – Al Tillman (Founder of the Los Angeles County Underwater Unit) and Neal Hess (Columist and Director of the of the National Diving Patrol for Skin Diver Magazine), with help from Garry Howland and John Jones, create the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) and hold its first instructor certification course in Houston during the Underwater Society of America Convention. Tillman adapts the Los Angeles County course to be taught to individuals from any diving venue and NAUI incorporates as a non-profit agency. NAUI becomes the first international certification agency. Early financing and administrative assistance for the agency came from Skin Diver Magazine.
1961 – John Gaffney founded the National Association of Skin Diving Schools (NASDS).
1962 – Ed Link spends 24 hours at 200 feet in the “Man in the Sea” project.
1963 – Dick Bonin and Gustav dalla Valle found Scubapro. Gustav later becomes internationally famous as one of the primier wine producers in the world.
1965 – Al Tillman creates UNEXSO in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. UNEXSO becomes a prototype for the complete destination diving resort. For the first time people had a place to go the catered only to divers and provided, in house, everything needed for both in-water and out-of-water activities.
1966 – John Cronin and Ralph Ericson found the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
1970 – Scuba Schools International (SSI) was founded by Bob Clark.
1971 – Scubapro introduces the Stabilization Jacket.
1977 – the first DEMA trade show is held.
1998 – NASDS merged with SSI.