Jacques Cousteau wades into the Mediterranean off a beach on the French Riviera, wearing flippers and the world’s first scuba device.
The Unseen Story
Born in southwestern France in 1910, Jacques Cousteau began swimming in the ocean at the age of four, launching a lifelong fascination with water. Ten years later he was given a movie camera and promptly took it apart to see how it worked, then began to use it to document everything around him. These three obsessions — the ocean, technology, and filmmaking — would drive the rest of his life.
A poor student, Cousteau joined the French navy as soon as he could, taking his camera along on trips through the Indian and South Pacific oceans. In 1933, Cousteau was in a serious car crash that nearly killed him. Daily swims in the Mediterranean were part of his physical recovery, and during that time a friend gave Cousteau goggles, introducing yet another passion to his life: the underwater world. From that point on, Cousteau was relentless in his search for a way to further explore the ocean, constantly experimenting with and testing ways to dive deeper for longer. In 1943 he met French engineer, Emile Gagnan, who shared Cousteau’s passion for tinkering and discovery, and together the two conducted multiple experiments with compressed air cylinders, snorkel hoses, body suits and breathing apparatus. Gagnan eventually invented a demand regulator that would feed air through the hose as needed, then Cousteau modified the regulator, adapting it for deep-sea diving. By June of 1943, Cousteau was wading into the Mediterranean, off the French Riviera, wearing fins and the world’s first Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA, known then as the Aqua Lung).
It was to be the first of several technologies Cousteau spearheaded as part of his push to continue pushing the boundaries of ocean exploration. In addition to continuing to streamline scuba equipment over the years, Cousteau was instrumental in the development of the underwater camera. He also led the world’s first underwater archaeology expedition (to find the Roman shipwreck Mahdia in 1948) and convinced millions of TV and film fans to care about marine life via the production of various television shows and documentary films.