One of the world’s favorite water adventure activities is scuba diving. Divers have many different reasons for spending time underwater. Many of them are sightseers and photographers; others are searching for ship ruins and artifacts. They are all part of a pastime and profession that has been around for centuries.
Underwater diving originated in societies where fishing was a main source of food. Divers trained to hold their breath for long periods would go under the water to catch fish or harvest shellfish from the bottom. Recognizing that the longer divers could stay underwater, the more food they could catch, ingenuity took over and new ideas were born.
The reed was the first snorkel. However, while divers could stay under longer, they could only go a few feet below the surface. Diving bells made of wood were used as early as 1600. The bells allowed divers to submerge for longer periods and get air trapped at the top of the bell by going under and up into the bell.
The first diving suits made of leather were designed in the early 1800s, allowing a diver to go down to 60 feet. During the same period, diving helmets were designed that allowed air to be pumped into the helmet from the surface. A solution that would allow divers to work independent of air supplied from the surface still persisted.
In 1825 the first truly self contained diving system was invented. The compressed air supply was contained in a belt worn by the diver and allowed him to stay under water unfettered for longer periods.
The final solution for a system that would allow divers to dive using a self-contained and regulated air supply was invented in 1942 by world famous water naturalist Jacque Cousteau and Emile Gagnan. The “aqua lung” allowed divers to go deeper and stay longer. During World War II, the aqua lung acquired the military acronym SCUBA for “self contained underwater breathing apparatus.” The acronym stuck and scuba diving began growing into the popular activity it is today during the 1950s.