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A little history on ...
The autonomous scuba diver
The Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA)

One of my passions, you will understand it is the collection of old regulators of the brand Spirotechnique, symbol of the scuba and modern scuba diving.

However it seems to me necessary for the people who will visit this site without having a historical concept on modern diving, to know that not all was invented by a single man in 1946, Commander Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

On the contrary, the history of the discovery of the marine environment dates back to antiquity, but the great revolution took place during the 19th century with the invention of the regulator ...


The word diving suit was invented in 1775 by the Abbot of the Chapel to name his invention, a kind of cork life jacket allowing soldiers to float and cross rivers (Photo 1). Scaphandre comes from the Greek skaphe (boat) and Andros (man), and therefore means the boat man.

Nowadays the word diving suit no longer refers at all to the invention of the Abbot of the Chapel but it has remained in the use of the French language to refer to a set of combinations or devices allowing a person to evolve in safety in an environment which is hostile to him (example: heavy foot diving suit, autonomous diving suit or space suit).





invention du scaphandre de l'abbé de la chapelle.

Photo 1

The first regulator in history is an invention of Doctor Manuel Théodore Guillaumet of 1838. But it is not autonomous, the air is supplied by a pump on the surface. It did not yet include an intermediate reserve between the air inlet and the plunger.


The history of the autonomous diving really started in the department of Aveyron on April 14, 1860 where a certain Benoît Rouquayrol deposited a patent for a “regulator” intended for a device of rescue of the minors victims of firedamps and drowned galleries. It is a regulator which works on the same principle as that of Théodore Guillaumet.


January 16, 1862 saw the birth of a new patent: the "Rouquayrol isolator" composed of the regulator and a mask with nose clip and mouthpiece in vulcanized rubber fixed on a metal spout. This system eliminates the heavy diving helmet.


March 11, 1864 Benoît Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze shared a patent for an intermediate tank intended for the pumped version, with manual pump on the surface and also, for alternative use, a compressed air tank inflated to 40 atmospheres for the autonomous version. This is the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze device (Photo 2), the first to be used for underwater diving. For this patent of 1864 two variations of the regulator of 1860 will follow in adaptation to diving. The first is the so-called “low pressure” type (8 and 25 liters), supplied with air by a pump and useful in both marine and mining environments. The second model is the so-called “high pressure” type (35 liters), autonomous thanks to a reserve of pressurized air at 30 kg and allowing an autonomy of half an hour at 10 meters deep. A variant of the latter, made of iron with reinforcing rivets, could be pressurized to 40 kg. In order to protect the diver from the cold of the sea depths Rouquayrol and Denayrouze create a waterproof suit in rubberized canvas, like the one already used by divers at that time. Weight soles of eight kilograms each complete the equipment. The diver wears a nose clip but no equipment is provided to protect his eyes. The first tests are made by snorkeling divers from Espalion who fish for trapped fish for this purpose in sub-aquatic meadows and who plunge their eyes wide open under water without any type of protection. A device of this generation from 1864 is exhibited at the Scuba Diving Museum in Espalion. It is the only known and still preserved copy of the original Rouquayrol-Denayrouze device. It was the Piel company, heir to the succession of the Denayrouze and Charles Petit companies, which offered it to the museum.

June 27, 1864, addition to the scuba suit of a rubberized cloth coat designed by the two partners. The patent is filed by including a small bell with a single porthole for the head of the diver. The bell fills with air as the diver exhales.

But in 1865 Rouquayrol and Denayrouze note that the bell system with progressive air filling is insufficient for the protection of the diver's eyes and that their first design with nose clips and without eye protection must be completely abandoned in favor of '' a permanent diver's eye protection system. They designed a copper facial mask adaptable to the diving suit and they nicknamed "snout" because of its shape. The air from the regulator arrives in the mask through a mouthpiece and the exhalation gases are evacuated by means of a manual valve with non-return valve. Three patents for this snout mask succeed one another, going from one to three and finally four portholes (Photo 3), but difficulties noted by the divers who used it led Auguste Denayrouze, in 1866, to replace the snout mask with a traditional diving helmet equipped with the same mouthpiece and the same exhaust air valve.

September 5, 1865 Rouquayrol and Denayrouze files a patent for the addition to the diving suit of a warning whistle which announces a low level of the air reserve and on February 17, 1866, the patent of a metallic canvas filter which prevents particles marines coming to hinder the regulator mechanism.

Thereafter Auguste Denayrouze in January 1873 two other patents: that of the Denayrouze valve with push button, on which the plunger can press by a pressure of his head.

Then that of the Denayrouze 1873 helmet with three bolts. The three bolts are those that hold the diving suit by pinching it between the helmet cap and the cap. The air intake is no longer done through a mouthpiece but directly into the helmet, which still includes the stale air exhaust valve as well as, new, the push button, which has an independent patent. An intermediate reservoir between the pump and the closed space of the helmet ensures a regular supply of air, which protects the ears of the diver from pressure differences generated by the jerks of traditional pumps which until then sent the air directly in the divers' helmets.

For his part, Louis Denayrouze, Auguste's brother files 3 other patents:

June 2, 1872: patent for the "Aerophore", a device which is again intended for rescue in a mining environment, coupled with a patent for a waterproof oil lamp which can also be used underwater.

February 1874: patent for the "Underwater acoustic horn", the first underwater telephone allowing the diver to communicate with the crews remaining on the surface.

Then to finish in 1889, he filed the patent for the Denayrouze hook helmet. It is a hook fastening system without bolts. Several manufacturers adopt this system, but it does not obtain the expected success because the divers, accustomed to the system of fixing by means of bolts, remain skeptical as for this hook. This type of spacesuit is the one Tintin uses in the comic book Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge.

The diving suit of Rouquayrol and Denayrouze will also inspire Jules Vernes for his work 20,000 places under the sea.



scaphandre Rouquayrol-Denayrouze

Photo 2

scaphandre Rouquayrol-Denayrouze

Photo 3

The diver equipped with an autonomous diving suit lacks the opportunity to take off from the bottom and to evolve in open water. It was Louis Marie de Corlieu, a French soldier, who was the inventor of the modern diving fin.

For his first prototype modern diving palm (Photo 4), he demonstrated in 1914 before an officer's parterre, including Yves Le Prieur who in 1926 was going to invent (and in 1934, perfect) a series of models of scuba . In 1939, De Corlieu was finally able to start mass production of his palms, which until then he had manufactured in his apartment in Paris. In the same year of 1939, the American Owen P. Churchill bought a license from De Corlieu to manufacture them in the United States and began to market them. They were adopted in 1940 by the US Navy and its combat swimmers who used them for example during the Normandy Landings.

Palmes De Corlieu

Photo 4

In 1925, Commander Yves Le Prieur attended the Grand Palais at a demonstration that Maurice Fernez made of one of his underwater breathing apparatus, supplied with surface air by a pump. He offered to replace his pump and his breathing tube with a bottle of compressed air, the same used by the Michelin company for his puncture repair kit which then fitted the cars. This system will provide the diver with autonomy and independence from the surface. Fernez accepted and in 1926 they patented their Fernez-Le Prieur suit (Photo 5). Fernez's supplies included a nose clip, so-called "Fernez glasses" and a non-return valve for the exhaust of the diver's exhalation air. Le Prieur's contribution was a manual diving regulator (or pressure regulator) which he had designed and coupled to the compressed air cylinder. The Prior will replace Fernez's glasses and nose clip with a small, safer porthole mask in 1931. This manual valve suit could supply air to two divers and delivered air only at constant pressure and based on hand-operated valves.


scaphandre Le Prieur

Photo 5



In 1935 Georges Commeinhes deposits the patent for a respiratory apparatus intended for the firemen. it combines the Rouquayrol and Denayrouse regulator and the Le prieur bottle.

Then in 1937 he released an amphibious version which was approved by the French Navy.

It was not until 1942 that Georges Commeinhes filed a patent for a self-contained breathing apparatus in a liquid medium under pressure, which he named GC 42 (Photo 6).

The diving suit is streamlined, comprising two 4 or 5 liter bottles, a membrane regulator, a pressure gauge, an audible alarm. With this innovative spacesuit he will dive in Marseille at the depth of 53 meters on July 30, 1943.

scaphandre Commeinhes

Photo 6

Meanwhile during the German occupation, in Paris, a certain Émile Gagnan adapts the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze regulator to the power supply of car engines which run on gas, following the fuel shortage which was being felt very hard (Photo 7 ). To this end, he filed the patent for his own regulator, miniaturization of the Rouquayrol and Denayrouze regulator made of bakelite.

At that time the boss of Gagnan was Henri Melchior, former admiral of the French Navy who became director of the company Air Liquide. Melchior's daughter was Simone Melchior, wife of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a ship's sign who, since his meeting with Corvette Captain Philippe Tailliez, had sought to perfect the autonomous scuba diving device invented by Commander Yves Le Prieur . When Melchior learned of Gagnan's invention, he immediately spoke to his son-in-law, Cousteau, and the two men met in Paris in December 1942. Two months later the prototype, fitted with a single corrugated pipe, was tested. in the Marne by Cousteau (photo 8). But he found it hard to inspiration head down and flaring head up and it was therefore necessary to be in a horizontal position to breathe properly. Cousteau suggested some modifications, including a second ringed pipe to bring the expiration against the membrane to compensate for the pressure differences. Back to the workshop ... and the Gagnan regulator was successfully tested at sea in June 1943, at Barry Beach in Bandol. The participants were Philippe Tailliez, Frédéric Dumas and Jacques-Yves Cousteau (Photo 9), the future musketeers.

Photo 7

Photo 8

scaphandre air liquide 1943

Photo 9

In 1944 Georges Commeinhes died during the liberation of Strasbourg and his regulator sank into oblivion in favor of the invention of Gagnan and Cousteau.

Cousteau and Gagnan (Photo 10) patented their invention in 1945 under the names of “Scaphandre Cousteau-Gagnan 1945 or CG45” and “Aqualung”, for export. The marketing itself began the following year, on MAY 26, 1946 with the creation of the LLC "La sprirotechnique", a subsidiary of Air Liquide, which, before the success of the marketing of the CG 45, became SA "La spirotechnique" in 1951.

commandant Jacques-Yves COUSTEAU et Émile GAGNAN

Photo 10

For fun, ... the grail of all collectors, the CG 45 prototype in 6 photos. They were sent to me by Jacques Chabbert, who got them from Manuel Cabrère d'Aqualung.

The happy owner being Aqualung, it would be the only copy that has come down to us but rumors are running that a second copy would exist ...

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