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Aqua-Lung was the first open-circuit, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (or "scuba") to achieve worldwide popularity and commercial success. This class of equipment is now commonly referred to as a diving regulator, or demand valve. The Aqua-Lung was invented in France during the winter of 1942–1943 by two Frenchmen: the engineer Émile Gagnan and the Naval Lieutenant (French: "lieutenant de vaisseau") Jacques Cousteau. It allowed Cousteau and Gagnan to film and explore underwater more easily.
Invention and patent
An earlier underwater breathing regulator, known as the régulateur, was invented in France in 1860 by Benoît Rouquayrol. He first conceived it as a device to help assist in escaping from flooded mines. The Rouquayrol regulator was adapted to diving in 1864, when Rouquayrol met the lieutenant de vaisseau Auguste Denayrouze. The Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus went into mass production and commercialization on 28 August 1865, when the French Navy Minister ordered the first apparatuses.
After 1884, several companies and entrepreneurs bought or inherited the patent and produced it until 1965. In 1942, during the German occupation of France, the patent was held by the Bernard Piel Company (Établissements Bernard Piel). One of their apparatuses went to Émile Gagnan, an engineer employed by the Air Liquide company. Gagnan miniaturized and adapted it to gas generators in response to a fuel shortage, which was a consequence of German requisitioning. Gagnan's boss, Henri Melchior, knew that his son-in-law Jacques-Yves Cousteau was looking for an automatic demand regulator to increase the useful endurance of the underwater breathing apparatus invented by Commander Yves le Prieur, so he introduced Cousteau to Gagnan in December 1942. On Cousteau's initiative, the Gagnan regulator was modified for use in diving. Cousteau and Gagnan were issued a patent some weeks later in 1943. After the war, in 1946, both men founded La Spirotechnique as a division of Air Liquide in order to mass-produce and sell their invention, this time under a new 1945 patent, and known as CG45 ("C" for Cousteau, "G" for Gagnan and "45" for 1945). This same CG45 regulator, produced for more than ten years and commercialized in France as of 1946, was the first to actually be called the "Aqua-Lung". In France, the terms scaphandre autonome ("autonomous diving set"), scaphandre Cousteau-Gagnan ("Cousteau-Gagnan diving set"), or CG45 were meaningful enough for commercialization, but to sell his invention in English-speaking countries, Cousteau needed an appealing name following English language standards. He then coined the trade name Aqua-Lung.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, La Spirotechnique started exporting the Aqua-Lung and leasing its patent to foreign companies like the British Siebe Gorman. These operations found great success. The Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus didn't achieve as much success because the compressed-air tanks made with the technology of the time could only hold 30 atmospheres, which allowed dives of only 30 minutes at no more than ten meters deep. Before 1945, French divers preferred the traditional copper helmet Standard diving dress. When the Aqua-Lung became available for commercial use, divers around the world found the scuba device smaller and easier to use than its precursor,[clarification needed] which in fact was almost completely unknown outside France. In addition, and most importantly, the Aqua-Lung could be mounted on stronger and reliable air tanks holding up to 200 atmospheres, allowing extension of diving duration to more than an hour at significant depths (including the time needed for decompression stops).
The first Cousteau-Gagnan Aqua-Lungs (like the CG45 of 1945 or the Mistral of 1955) were mainly twin-hose open-circuit scuba. Similar configurations have since been made by various manufacturers with varying design details and numbers of cylinders. Like open-circuit scuba with single-hose regulators, they consisted of one or more high pressure diving cylinders and a diving regulator (the Aqua-Lung) that supplied the diver with breathing gas at ambient pressure via a demand valve. For more than ten years, seen in the films Épaves (Shipwrecks, 1943) and Le Monde du silence (The Silent World, 1956) the main scuba equipment used by Cousteau and his divers was an Aqua-Lung mounted on three diving cylinders, one being used as a reserve. The Aqua-Lung allowed divers to spend more time underwater and, along with the invention of several underwater cameras, to film and explore more freely.
The Aqua-Lung is an open-circuit design, so-called because gas flows from the cylinder, through the regulator, to the diver, out into the water, and is not recycled. Scuba systems that were invented before the Aqua-Lung were closed circuit, or rebreather,equipment, in which breathing gas flows through an ambient pressure circuit to the diver, and exhaled gas is returned through a scrubber which removes carbon dioxide, to a volume bag (or counter-lung), some fresh gas is added to maintain the oxygen content, and then back to the diver again, in a closed loop.
The Aqua-Lung was not the first underwater breathing apparatus, but it was the first to be widely popular. In 1934, René Commeinhes developed a firefighter's breathing apparatus which was adapted for diving by his son Georges in 1937. It was used by the French Navy during the first few years of World War II. The twin-hose Aqua-Lung demand regulator forms the foundation of all modern scuba regulators. A diaphragm is used to control a valve to deliver the breathing gas to the diver on demand, at ambient water pressure.
It is not clear who invented the first single hose regulator. The invention was motivated by an effort to bypass Aqua-Lung's patent on the twin-hose regulator, which involved the return of exhaust gas to the regulator to reduce the differential pressure and therefore reduce work of breathing. The single hose regulator accomplishes this by relocating the second stage pressure sensing diaphragm to the point of exhaust at the mouthpiece, rather than routing the exhaust back to the regulator diaphragm at the cylinder.
An advertisement in Popular Mechanics October 1950 offered a single hose regulator for sale by Divers Supply in Wilmington California. At about the same time as Divers Supply began selling the Sport Diver regulator, Australian Ted Eldred designed a two stage single hose regulator which he marketed in Australia as the Porpoise. Virtually all modern open-circuit scuba gear uses the single-hose two-stage design, though Aqualung did market a modernised twin-hose Mistral model in 2005 and 2006.
Aqualung, Aqua-Lung, and Aqua Lung are registered trademarks for scuba diving breathing equipment. That trade name was originally owned in the United States by a company known as U.S. Divers (now Aqua Lung America). The term was in use before the trademark was registered by René Bussoz, who owned a sporting goods store called René Sports in Los Angeles. He obtained a contract with the French firm Air Liquide, the parent company of Aqua Lung/La Spirotechnique, to import the new scuba equipment into the United States for sale on the Pacific coast (SPACO had the contract for the Atlantic coast). Bussoz changed the name of his company to U.S. Divers and registered the name Aqua-Lung. This turned out to be a wise move, because when the French company decided not to renew his five-year contract, no one had even heard of their product, but everyone was familiar with the names he had registered. Bussoz sold the company and the trade names for a handsome profit, returning to France. The name US Divers sounded very official and very American, but it was owned by a Frenchman and sold to a French company.
Air Liquide held the patent on the original "Aqualung" (also written as "Aqua-Lung" or "Aqua Lung") until the patent expired sometime around 1960 to 1963. The term "Aqualung", as far as is known, first appeared in print on page 3 of Jacques-Yves Cousteau's first book, The Silent World, in 1953. Public use of the word "aqualung", and public interest in Aqualungs and scuba diving, were started around 1953 in English-speaking counties by a National Geographical Society Magazine article about Cousteau's underwater archaeological expedition to Grand Congloué. In France, aqualung diving was popularized by Cousteau's movie Épaves, while his book The Silent World also helped significantly.
As with some other registered trademarks, the term "aqualung" became a genericized trademark in English-speaking countries as a result of common use by the public and in publications, including the BSAC's official diving manuals. Presumably, lawyers for Cousteau or Air Liquide could have slowed or stopped this genericization by taking prompt action, but this seems not to have been done in Britain, where Siebe Gorman held the British rights to both the trade name and the patent.
In the United States, the term aqualung was popularized by the popular television series Sea Hunt (1958). This series never said that an aqualung could be called anything else, or made by anyone else, but the company that supplied Mike Nelson, the lead character in the series. The Voit Rubber Corporation provided most of the diving equipment used in this series, but actual Aqua-Lungs appeared in early episodes. The word "aqualung" was commonly used in speech and in publications as a term for an open-circuit, demand valve-controlled breathing apparatus (even after Air Liquide's patent expired and other manufacturers started making identical equipment), occasionally also for rebreathers, and in figurative uses (such as "the water spider's aqualung of air bubbles"). The word entered the Russian language as the generic noun акваланг ("akvalang"). That word was taken into Lithuanian as the generic noun "akvalangas"; "langas" happens to be Lithuanian for "window", giving a literal meaning "aqua-window".
In the United States, U.S. Divers managed to keep "Aqualung" as a trademark. The acronym "SCUBA", or "Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus", originated in the United States Navy, where it meant a frogman's rebreather. Scuba became the generic term for that type of open-circuit breathing set, and soon the acronym SCUBA became a noun — "scuba" — all in lower-case. "Scuba" was a trademark for a time – used by Healthways, now known as Scubapro - one of the competitors of U.S. Divers.
In Britain, Siebe Gorman (who held the rights to the tradename "Aqualung") made no serious attempt to control use of the word, and "aqualung" remained a common public generic word for that sort of apparatus - including in the British Sub-Aqua Club's official publications – for many years.
Aqua Lung America, the current name of the U.S. Divers company, now makes rebreathers whose tradenames or catalog descriptions include the word "Aqualung". The name U.S. Divers is now used as a trademark by Aqua Lung America for its line of snorkeling equipment.
- Timeline of underwater technology, The diving regulator reappears for details of the development of a similar regulator, not related to the Aqua-Lung
- Timeline of underwater technology, World War II for details of the development of the Aqua-Lung
- Scuba sets for description of modern breathing sets
- After Cousteau himself, who had coined the word, the spelling was originally Aqua-Lung. See Jacques-Yves Cousteau & Frédéric Dumas, Le Monde du silence, Éditions de Paris, Paris, 1953, Dépôt légal 1er Trimestre 1954 - Édition N° 228 – Impression N° 741 (in French)
- Both regulators—the one from 1860 invented by Benoît Rouquayrol and the twin-hose Cousteau-type invented in 1943 by Gagnan and Cousteau—received, among some others, the name of régulateur (French for "regulator"). For the 1860 régulateur see the page of the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus in the Musée du Scaphandre website (a diving museum in Espalion, south of France) Archived June 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. For the word régulateur as used by Cousteau himself just check page 8 in the first French edition of Cousteau's book The Silent World: Jacques-Yves Cousteau & Frédéric Dumas, Le Monde du silence, Éditions de Paris, Paris, 1953, Dépôt légal 1er Trimestre 1954 – Édition N° 228 – Impression N° 741 (in French).
- Than, Ker (11 June 2010). "Jacques Cousteau Centennial: What He Did, Why He Matters". news.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- Bahuet, Eric (19 October 2003). "Plongee souterraine - avec ou sans bulle?". FFESSM. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- List of French companies which produced the Rouquayrol and Denayroze patents (Association les pieds lourds website, in French). Archived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau with Frédéric Dumas, The Silent World (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953).
- The Musée du Scaphandre website (a diving museum in Espalion, south of France) mentions how Gagnan and Cousteau adapted a Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus by means of the Air Liquide company (in French). Archived 2012-10-30 at the Wayback Machine
- Description of the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus in the Musée du Scaphandre website (a diving museum in Espalion, south of France)
- Cousteau quickly describes the two Aqua-Lung prototypes used to shoot the film Épaves in 1943, when Cousteau mentions his cylinders' highest pressure (in French).
- Capitaine de frégate PHILIPPE TAILLIEZ, Plongées sans câble, Arthaud, Paris, January 1954, Dépôt légal 1er trimestre 1954 – Édition N° 605 – Impression N° 243 (in French)
- "Jacques Cousteau, French ocean explorer and engineer". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
- "Sport Diver". Popular Mechanics. Vol. 94 no. 4. Hearst Magazines. October 1950. p. 76. ISSN 0032-4558.