A history of scuba diving presented by Larry Koonce
The history of scuba diving can not be summed up in one distinct instance. It was more like a progression of events that lead up to scuba diving as we know it today. Scuba diving today includes things like a gas tank strapped to a diver’s back with an air hose that is controlled by what is known as a demand regulator. The advances in technology over the centuries has lead us to what scuba diving is known as today, but to truly appreciate the diving of today you must piece together the events of scuba diving’s meager beginnings.
The beginning of scuba diving can likely be attributed to ancient times. In those days they figured out that by hollowing out a reed it could help them breathe better under water. This is in essence considered the first snorkel. While this was a means by which the ability to stay under water was enhanced, it was still very hard to see. It wasn’t until somewhere around 1300 that Persian divers started using thinly polished and sliced tortoise shells to make a form of eye goggles to help them see better under water.
The use of a hollowed out reed was a great beginning, but man’s quest to explore the underwater world could not be realized unless there was a way to actually be able to breathe better underwater. The first diving bell was invented in 1535 by a man named Guglielmo de Lorena. It was essentially a wooden barrel that rested on the diver’s shoulders with the barrels weight being supported by slings. This provided air for the diver to breathe and allowed them to stay under water for more than one breath of air, although it was not much more than one breath.
While all of this is agreed upon by scuba diving historians, the rest of the inventions that have lead up to diving as we know it today pretty much depends on who you talk to. In some accounts, the first air pump is attributed to German inventor Otto von Guericke in 1650.
He invented a device with two way flaps consisting of an air gun cylinder and a piston that was designed in a way that it would pull air out of whatever it was connected to, which was known as a vacuum pump. Other accounts attribute the first air pump to Denis Papin and Galileo Galilei somewhere between the 16th and 17th century when they invented a different style of diving bell with an air pump connected to it that would transport air to the people under water.
Still others attribute the first air pump to John Smeaton, although some report this as happening as early as 1771 while others report this occurrence in 1788 and 1789. His invention was a hand-operated pump that provided fresh compressed air, but the most innovative characteristic was the non-return valve, which did not allow air to return once the pumping had stopped.
The first diving bell that would allow divers to spend extended periods of time under water is attributed to Edmund Halley, although some accounts of his invention say it was invented in 1690, while others list this happening in 1716. Whatever the date may be, he was the first one who, by way of a lead diving bell, was able to spend 90 minutes underwater along with four other divers. At this time in history, however, man was not aware of the effects of water pressure on the body, leaving them wondering why they came out with painful ears.
Since then there have been numerous inventions that have made scuba diving both safer and much easier. While the actual history of some of diving’s greatest inventions may be a little cloudy, it remains certain that without the work of these pioneers we would not be able to enjoy scuba diving in the way that it is known today.