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People Under the Sea: History - Timeline

1774: Freminet devises a bellow powered surface air supply system allowing divers to go to 45 feet for one hour.

1823: Charles Anthony Deane, an English inventor, patented a "smoke helmet" for fighting fires. At some point in the next few years, it was used for diving as well. The helmet fit over a man's head and was held on with weights. Air was supplied from the surface through a hose allowing allowing a diver to submerge up to 70 feet.

1825: Englishman William James invented first workable, full-time SCUBA. It incorporated a cylindrical belt around the diver's trunk that served as an air reservoir at 450 pounds per square inch (psi). A diver could remain under water for up to 7 minutes at depths up to 11 feet.

1837: Augustus Siebe, a German-born inventor living in England, sealed Deane's diving helmet (see 1823) to a watertight, air-containing rubber suit. The closed diving suit, connected to an air pump on the surface, became the first effective standard diving dress and the prototype of hard-hat rigs is still used today. The suit allowed one to stay submerge underwater for up to 30 minutes and to dive to depth of 65 feet.

1838: W. H. Talyor invents the first armored diving suit that allow a diver to submerge to a depth of 150 feet.

1865: Frenchmen Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouse, a mining engineer and naval lieutenant respectively, patented an apparatus for underwater breathing. It consisted of a horizontal steel tank of compressed air at about 250-350 psi on a diver's back, connected through a valve arrangement to a mouthpiece. Patented as the "Aerophore," the device delivered air only when the diver inhaled, via a membrane that was sensitive to outside water pressure. In effect, it was the first demand regulator for underwater use. With this apparatus, the diver was tethered to the surface by a hose that pumped fresh air into the low-pressure tank, but the diver was able to disconnect the tether and dive with just the tank on the diver's back for a few minutes. The aerophore was a forerunner of modern scuba equipment.

1876: An English merchant seaman, Henry A. Fleuss, developed the first workable, self-contained diving rig that used compressed oxygen rather than compressed air. In this prototype of closed-circuit scuba, which was the forerunner of modern closed circuit scuba units used by military divers, carbon dioxide was absorbed by rope soaked in caustic potash, so that exhaled air could be re-breathed, and no bubbles entered the water. Although depths were limited to about 25 feet, the apparatus allowed for relatively long bottom times, up to three hours.

1917: The U.S. Bureau of Construction & Repair first introduced the Mark V Diving Helmet. When attached to a deep-sea dress and umbilical, the Mark V became the underwater workhorse for decades to come. It was used for practically all salvage work undertaken during World War II.

1933: French navy captain Yves Le Prieur modified the Rouquayrol-Denayrouse invention (see 1865) by combining a specially designed demand valve with a high pressure air tank (1500 psi) to give the diver complete freedom from restricting hoses and lines. The apparatus contained no regulator. The diver received a breath of fresh air by opening a tap, while exhaled air escaped into the water under the edge of the diver's mask. The apparatus allowed a diver to journery underwater for upto ten minutes and to deepths of 40 feet. In 1935, Le Prieur's SCUBA was adopted by the French navy.

1942-43: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a French naval lieutenant, and Emile Gagnan, an engineer for Air Liquide (a Parisian natural gas company), worked together to redesign a car regulator that would automatically provide compressed air to a diver on his slightest intake of breath. Cousteau and Gagnan attached their new demand valve regulator to hoses, a mouthpiece and a pair of compressed air tanks. In January 1943, Cousteau tested the unit in the cold Marne River outside Paris. After a modification, they patented the Aqua Lung. The Gagnan-Cousteau regulator fundamentally altered diving. Its simple design and solid construction provided a reliable, low-cost unit for diving. In October 1943, Dumas, in a carefully planned dive, descended to 210 feet in the Mediterranean Sea and experienced "l'ivresse des grandes profondeurs," rapture of the great depths.

1947: In August, Dumas made a record dive with the Aqua Lung to 307 feet in the Mediterranean Sea

1962: Beginning in 1962, several experiments were conducted where people lived in underwater habitats, using scuba equipment to leave the habitat for exploration and returning for sleeping, eating and relaxing. The habitats were supplied by compressed air from the surface. The first such experiment, Conshelf (Continental Shelf) One, took place in September 1962. Under the watchful eye of Jacques Cousteau and his team, Albert Falco and Claude Wesley spent seven days under 33 feet of water near Marseilles in a habitat they name Diogenes.

1963-1965: In 1963, eight divers lived in Conshelf Two under the Red Sea for a month. Other habitats of this period were Sealab I (1964), Sealab II (1965) and Conshelf Three (1965), in which former astronaut Scott Carpenter and other divers spent a month at 60 meters off the coast of southern France.

1968: On October 14, John J. Gruener and R. Neal Watson dove to 437 feet breathing compressed air off coast of Grand Bahama Island. This record would not be broken until 1990.

1990: On February 14, 1990, Bret Gilliam dove 452 feet off the coast of Honduras (Roatan). He descended in 4 minutes 41 seconds and stayed at depth one minute 40 seconds.

1994: On March 18, 1994, Daniel J. Manion, M.D. dove to 510 feet on Clifton's Wall, Nassau, The Bahamas.

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