James Dugan was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on May 7, 1912. His parents were Mary Katherine (Hoffman) Dugan and John Henry. He was the oldest of three sons. Dugan went to Altoona High School and graduated in 1929. After high school, he went to Penn State University (1933-37). Jim Dugan, as he was called by his peers, became the editor of the campus literary magazine, Old Main Bell. Later he became the editor of another campus magazine, the Penn State Froth, in about 1936. After graduating, he resided in New York and then traveled to England with the Office of War Information. He was promoted to rank of corporal in medical corps at Fort Hancock, N.J. Dugan supervised French, German, Spanish and Russian classes for soldiers. Dugan also worked as a war correspondent in the European Theater. He served with the Army Air Corps during WWII. On April 19, 1946 he married Ruth Mae Lonergan, whom he met while she was a WAC in London during the war.
Dugan had a long-lasting connection with Jacques Cousteau. Dugan first met Cousteau in 1944 during the liberation of France. At this time he was a Yank magazine correspondent. Much of his writing in the 50's and 60's concerns underwater exploration with Captain Jacques Cousteau. Dugan received the Grand Prix, Cannes International Film Festival award for the documentary The Silent World in 1956. He was also part of the team that produced the Academy Award-winning documentaries The Silent World (1956) and World Without Sun (1964). Dugan wrote the narration for both films. Dugan edited Cousteau's books The Silent World (1953) and World Without Sun (1965) and co-authored The Living Sea (1963) with Cousteau.
James Dugan died June 3, 1967 in Panama City, FL following a pressurization accident during a deep dive in an experimental submersible. Lengthy litigation with General Mills, operator of the submersible, eventually led to a settlement with the family.
A collection of James Dugan's papers are held in the J. Welles Henderson Archives & Library of Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, PA. They date from 1880 to 1993 and are a collection of papers of James and Ruth Dugan on diving, marine science, and other related topics. Materials in the collection include photos, films, periodicals, correspondence, clippings, and miscellaneous records. Photographs in the collection include: images of dives off the French coast of the Mediterranean; images of Jacques Cousteau and his crew at work and candid shots of them (Cousteau playing an accordion and photos of John F. Kennedy and Cousteau); slides from Hawaii and San Francisco. Printed materials in the collection include: magazines, reprints and extracts; newspaper clippings, many of which deal with Jacques Cousteau and the Cousteau Society; newsletters; directories; diving equipment catalogs; a private cable code book from 1955; programs and brochures; and several books, including an oversize volume "Greek Ships of 1821". Audiovisual materials in the collection include: reel-to-reel audio tapes, including interviews (Admiral Momsen on submarines; and Jacques Cousteau), talks, meeting of the MAVC convention, 1961, and audio of sounds made by the Weddell seal; film reels, including footage of the dive at Fontaine de Vaucluse; and a number of commercial videos related to marine subjects. Records related to the United States Liaison Committee for Oceanographic Research includes Ruth and James Dugan correspondence. The correspondence largely relates to the tax status of the organization. Records also include one grant application, bank statements, and canceled checks. Other materials in the collection include: typescripts of articles and other writings; multiple copies of a brochure written by Dugan for an extermination company; plans for an underwater exhibit at the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, 1974; and several maps and charts, including a chart of New York Harbor, the ocean floor, and other locations; a can of Evian water; a diving mask; and a metal valve handle.
The collection also includes items related to Auguste and Louis Boutan. Materials include: plans of diving apparatus; manuscript of a chapter on Louis Boutan in Man Under the Sea, by Dugan; typed notes on Boutan, in English and French; instruction booklet and brochure for Boutan's Scaphandre Autonome; articles on Boutan; photos of Boutan (1880-1930); prints of underwater photos by Boutan (1890s) and a portfolio containing 4 of Boutan's underwater photographs: "Photographies Sous-Marines par L. Boutan", 1898; photos of Boutan's diving apparatus; several drawings of diving apparatus; plans for a diving vessel; and charts of weight, displacement, and so on for the vessel.
- Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August, 1943. New York: Random House, 1962.
- The Living Sea. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd, 1963 (with Jacques Cousteau)
- Man under the Sea and His Shipping Empire. London: Harper, 1963.
- The Great Iron Ship. New York: Harper, 1953.
- The Great Mutiny. New York: Putnam, 1965.
- Man under the Sea. New York: Harper, 1956.
- Undersea Explorer: Story of Captain Cousteau. New York: Harper, 1957.
- World Beneath the Sea. New York: Harper, 1967
- James Dugan, a biography by Leigh Haakenson at Penn State University.