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Timeline of SCUBA Diving History

Last updated: October 14, 2021
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The following SCUBA history is extracted from the Third Quarter 1999 issue of The Undersea Journal, published by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).

1878: Henry Fleuss invents the first practical self-contained dive apparatus using the closed-circuit principle-oxygen in a reservoir replaces oxygen consumed by the diver while a caustic soda absorbs the carbon dioxide.

1880: French physiologist Paul Bert completes his pioneering work on breathing under hyperbaric conditions. He recognizes that “caisson disease” is identical to problems experienced by deep sea divers and suggests that the release of dissolved nitrogen from the bloodstream causes the problem. He also shows that oxygen can become toxic under pressure.

1893: Louis Boutan develops the first underwater camera and shoots the first underwater photographs. He also invents the first underwater photographic lights, and uses them to make the first underwater photograph using artificial light in 1899. The following year, he writes the first book on underwater photography, La Photographie Sous-Marine.

1905: The United States Navy publishes its first dive manual, Handbook for Seaman Gunners. It has seven brief chapters with equipment illustrations.

1908: John Scott Haldane confirms that the release of dissolved nitrogen causes caisson disease. To enable divers to avoid “the bends,” Haldane creates a procedure for staged decompression, which culminates in the publication of the first dive tables.

1909: Germany’s Draeger enters the dive market and develops an oxygen rebreather in 1911. In 1917, Draeger produces an enriched air rebreather with a depth limit of 40 metres/130 feet.

1920: Tokyo engineer Watanabe Riichi markets a respirator under the name of Ohgushi’s Peerles Respirator that uses air cylinders and is carried vertically on the diver’s back. It goes into service with the Japanese Navy.

1923: W. H. Longley takes the first underwater color photos at Dry Tortugas, USA. Longley and Charles Martin take the first color photographs using artificial light with a magnesium flash on the surface three years later.

1925: Yves Le Prieur produces the first practical self-contained, compressed air diving apparatus: The diver controls the air flow manually. The final version debuts in 1934, complete with full face mask. Le Prieur trains dozens to dive in pools for fun. Was he the first recreational scuba instructor?

1932: William Beebe co-invents the bathysphere with engineer Otis Barton. Suspended from a cable, the pair ride a steel sphere to a depth of 661 meters/2170 feet off the coast of Bermuda. The pair are the first to see, describe and photograph bioluminescent animals in the deep ocean. Beebe publishes his discoveries in his book Half Mile Down IN 1934.

1933: Frenchman Louis Ce Corlieu receives his first European patent for swimming propellers, more commonly called swim fins and files for an American patent later that year.

1938: American Guy Gilpatric writes the The Compleat Goggler, widely regarded as the first book on recreational diving.

1939: Hans Hass publishes the second book on recreational diving in Germany, entitled Hunting Underwater with Harpoon and Camera. It is the first book to discuss underwater photography and free diving. Later that year, Hass makes the first underwater film while free diving, called Stalking Under Water. In 1942, Hass outfits a research vessel, the Sea Devil, for scuba expeditions and becomes the first person to dive in the Red Sea and on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef using SCUBA.

1942: Jacques Cousteau produces his first underwater film, Par Dix-Huit Meteres de Fond (At a Depth of Eighteen Metres), made solely by free diving. Cousteau and wife Simone take black and white still camera film and load it into a movie camera. Cousteau also meets Emile Gagnan, an industrial gas control systems engineer with L’Air Liquide et Cie. Together they invent the Aqualung, the first commercially viable open circuit scuba, in 1943, Cousteau offspring Philippe and Jean-Michel also try the prototype Aqualung units. This makes the Cousteau family the first to discover that a dive trip makes a great family vacation.

1948: Canadian production of the Aqualung begins under the supervision of Emile Gagnan. That year, under the supervision of Rene Bussoz (a Cousteau relative by Marriage), Arnie Post tests an Aqualung in a New York swimming pool in what many believe to be the first American Aqualung dive. The following year, on a dive trip with Cousteau, Bussoz, and several others possibly make the first open water dive with an Aqualung in the United States at Point Dume, Malibu, California, USA.

1950: Dick Anderson becomes the first Aqualung instructor at U.S. Divers. He starts at the company as a laborer, but his mechanical ability leads him to repairing the units. As an instructor, he shows people how to put the unit on, breathe underwater, clear the mask and remove and replace the mouthpiece. Possible the first Discover Scuba experience program?

1951: Conrad Limbaugh, the scientific diving officer at Scripps Oceanographic Institution, develops the first civilian scuba course. His program later becomes the basis of the Los Angeles County dive program, developed by Al Tillman and Bev Morgan in 1954, the first public scuba certification. While at Scripps, Limbaugh writes the first scientific dive safety manual and establishes standards still in use today.

1953: Cousteau and Frederic Duman publish Cousteau’s first English language book The Silent World in America. Also in 1953, U.S. Divers publishes the first equipment catalog and Dr. Hugh Bradner develops and introduces the neoprene wet suit.

1954: E. R. Cross publishes Underwater Safety. America’s first modern day dive manual and Dottie Frazier becomes the first female scuba instructor. A long time free diver, Frazier actually learns to scuba dive while taking the instructor course.

1954: American Zale Parry sets a record as the first woman to descend below 61 meters/200 feet. she makes it to 64 meters/209 feet on a dive at Catalina Island, California, USA.

1954: Frank Scalli writes the scuba instruction program for the YMCA. He also introduces scuba instruction to colleges and universities and teaches the first classes at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. The YMCA’s National Aquatic counciul offers the first nationwide diver training and certification program in 1959, based on Scalli’s work.

1955: 1955 through 1968 John Steel becomes the world’s first underwater artist, actually painting while underwater. He paints cover images for Skin Diver magazine.

1956: Ted Nixon introduces the American red and white “diver down” flag. A year later, Fredrick Dumas introduces the buoyancy compensation device (BCD). Also in 1957, Bob Soto opens “Bob Soto’s Diving Ltd.,” the first successful, full-service, full-time dive operation on Grand Cayman Island.

1959: Confederation Mondiale Des Activites Subaquatiques (CMAS) forms in Monaco and a year later, Al Tillman and Neal Hess organize the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) in cooperation with the Underwater Society of America. Tillman holds NAUI Card Number One.

1960: The Viking Norseman twin hose regulator includes the first octopus regulator and Maurice Fenzy patents the first commercially successful BCD.

1963: Industry members form the Diving Equipment and Manufacturers Association (DEMA) – now known as the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (also DEMA). A year later Richard Adcock establishes the first live-aboard dive boat in La Paz, Mexico. That year, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation Department produces one of the first instructional films on recreational diving, Anyone for Diving?, narrated by colonel John d. Craig and featuring appearances by Zale parry, tommy thompson and others.=20

1965: George Beauchat obtains an American patent for the Jet fin. Scubapro later obtains and popularizes the fin. (The original patent is for a full-foot pocket design, unlike the later, adjustable-strap version.)

1966: Ralph Erickson and John Cronin form Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) in the United States. Erickson develops the idea of continuing education, Croniin holds PADI Instructor card CD-Zero and Erickson holds CD One.

1967: The Undersea medical Society is founded in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

1967: Tom Mount establishes the National Association of Cave divers out of concern for unprepared divers entering caves. he begins teaching cave diving in 1962 – long before there was any formal certification.

1968: PADI begins processing the first certification card with a diver’s photograph, called the Positive Identification Card, or PIC as it later becomes known. Positive identification cards eliminate the practice of loaning cards to untrained divers for equipment rental and air fills.

1970: The National Underwater Accident data Center is established. the center begins to keep track of dive accidents for statistical analysis.

1972: Nick Icorn becomes the first executive director of PADI and writes the first standards and procedures for any scuba instructional organization. Captain Don Stewart of Bonaire introduces mooring buoys to protect reefs from damage by boat anchors the same year.

1975: PADI formalizes the first training program to qualify instructor trainers – the Course Director Training Course.

1977: Miami hosts the first DEMA Show, thus establishing DEMA Shows as “neutral ground” where the entire industry can meet. Within a few years, DEMA makes itself a potent force for professionalism and unity in the recreational dive industry.

1978: PADI introduces its new entry-level scuba course. The course breaks new ground with its streamlined approach; teaching students the necessary dive knowledge and skills in an easy, refreshing manner. The program’s cornerstone is PADI’s first textbook, the PADI Diver Manual.

1983: Co-inventors Craig Barshinger, Karl Huggins and ORCA Industries founder Jim Fulton, introduce the Edge, the first commercially successful American electronic dive computer. The dive computer revolution begins and changes the way divers keep track of their dive time, depth and decompression profiles.

1985: PADI becomes the first training organization to establish independent testing of instructor candidates with the new Instructor Development course (IDC) and Instructor Examination (IE) program.

1986: PADI’s research and development affiliate, Diving Science and Technology (DSAT), funds dive table research to produce the world’s first decompression model, specifically for recreational divers. This results in the DSAT Recreational Dive Planner (RDP), Wheel and Table version released in 1998.

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