The History of Scuba Diving


Alright divers, it’s about time for a history lesson!  I’m sure you’ve learned about safety more times than you care to remember, you’ve covered the ins and outs of how to care for your gear, you’ve even covered the basic theory behind diving.  But what about how it all began and the advances diving has made throughout history?  Here’s the relatively short and sweet version of how the sport you love so much came to be what it is today.

Just the Beginning

In 1878, a brilliant young gentleman by the name of Henry Fleuss invented the first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, and “scuba” was born.  Since people now had the ability to breathe underwater, Louis Boutan came up with the first underwater camera in the early 1890’s.  By the early 1920’s the first color photographs of underwater marine life emerged and an even more successful underwater breathing device was introduced by Yves Le Prieur.

In the mid-1930’s, the first diving club was organized and the “Bottom Scratchers” of San Diego started a new trend across the country.  About this same time, the first swimming fins were invented in France before being patented in the U.S.  In 1943, diving was completely changed by the introduction of the Aqua Lung.  Invented by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan, the device had been significantly improved from the earlier model.

As Scuba diving began to be taken more seriously as a sport, equipment became more readily available.  At the end of the 1940’s, Mar-Vel Underwater Equipment was established and sold both diving and commercial equipment.

As Time Went On…

It soon became clear that scuba diving was not just a short lived fad, but was definitely here to stay.  By the 1950’s, Aqua-Lungs were being sold all over the U.S. and Skin Diver Magazine made its debut.  The publication of Hans Hass’s Diving to Adventure also got more people interested in diving and was followed by Silent World which became one of the most influential books to ever be written about diving.

The 1950’s were clearly a time of huge growth and development for diving, and in 1954 the first diver education program was established in Los Angeles.  The courses taught today are still based on the outline of that first course.  The course received such a huge response that in 1955, the first instructor certification program was established.

Those sexy wetsuits we all love so much?  Those made their initial debut in 1956, created by researchers at the University of California.  That same year, the infamous “Divers Down” flag is introduced in all its red and white glory.

In 1959, just 4 years after the first ever certification program is created, the YMCA established the first national certification program for diver education.  About that same time, the Underwater Society of America was established.

Let’s not forget the first diving record to be set; Mr. Ed Link descends 200 feet and stays there for 24 hours in his “Man in the Sea” project.  In 1965, the first official “diving resort” is set up and essentially becomes a prototype for all future resorts to follow and cater to the needs of divers both in and out of the water.  Mr. Bob Clark founded Scuba Schools International (SSI) in 1970 and in 1999 it merged with the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools (NASDS).

How Far We’ve Come

So here we are; from the very first underwater breather of 1878 to the tanks and regulators we have today, scuba has clearly come a long way and left a major impact on the underwater sporting world.  Today we have all sorts of gadgets that work underwater, such as video cameras, computers, and navigational systems that make scuba a more safe and enjoyable experience.

Along the way we’ve discovered risks and dangers, potential injuries, safety procedures, prime locations, and so much more.  Scuba continues to change and develop all the time, and the demand for it has not ceased to increase since it originally made its appearance.  As more equipment is developed that continues to make scuba even safer and people continue to relieve their fears about diving, scuba will continue to evolve and the sport may even be completely different in 20 years than the way we know it today.