Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) was born in Saint-Andre-de-Cuzac, France and was well known as a skilled French naval officer, explorer, documentarian, researcher, and photographer. He was fascinated with the water and machinery. In his early teens he built a model crane and a battery powered car. In high school he was a troublesome student forcing his parents to enroll him in a strict boarding school. Under new guidance, he excelled and later entered the Ecole Navale (Naval Academy). In 1933, he became a gunnery officer in the French Navy. During this time he began working on a breathing machine for longer dives during underwater exploration. Cousteau was forced to postpone these efforts during WWII and served as a spy for the French resistance.
In 1943, Cousteau and Emile Gagnan developed the aqualung, a open circuit regulator which allowed divers to breathe compressed air from a cylinder at ambient pressure via a demand valve. The demand valve solved the problem of equalizing air pressure in the diver’s lungs with increased water pressure at varying depths. This invention greatly extended dive time and opened up a new underwater world. It also provided a reliable alternative to clumsy and expensive helmet and dive bell systems.
The rest of his life was dedicated to studying the world’s oceans. With the aid of friends he purchased a retired minesweeper, the Calypso, and converted the ship into a research vessel. Cousteau also created the first underwater laboratory which researchers lived in for up to a month. He supported his research by producing underwater documentaries, the first of their kind, on marine ecosystems. He started several environmental organizations to support conservation of marine environments, and was an advocate for environmental education. Cousteau died of a heart attack at age 87; however, his environmental organizations and legacy live on.
The Famous Red Hat
The R/V Calypso
Aqualung Pic 1
Aqualung Pic 2