The History of Diving
The history of diving goes back a long way. In ancient times, reeds were used as a kind of snorkelling device. It was all about solving the problem of breathing beneath the water. It was such an imperative, in fact, that soon diving bells and suits were devised that aided air supply. Scuba is the modern incarnation of these modest origins.
Research has attempted to trace the beginnings of diving equipment and it has resulted in some speculation as to date and place. Mummified human remains have been found going back over 5,000 in Chile that offer insight into primitive diving inventions. Not only are these remains near fish bones and mussel shells, but small growths in their ears also denote their role as divers within the culture.? We know understand this sign and now call it ?surfer?s ear.? To accommodate the necessity of an underwater breather, hollow reeds served as breathing tubes. They had to reach the surface, and while limiting diving depth, they did allow a man to stay submerged for a longer period of time than previously.
We can give credit to one such Scyllias, a Greek diver mentioned by Herodotus in 500 BCE who, as the legend goes, was able to dive among the Persian ships without being noticed as he cut their moorings. The ancient world was also not unfamiliar with salvage diving for treasure, for example, and laws were enacted to control the practice in Greece around the first century BCE. Thus, we have evidence of early devices for underwater breathing and the history of diving apparatus begins.
We can turn to the siege of Tyre in 332 for a chronicle of such equipment being used by Alexander the Great?while in a glass barrel no less. Later, Aristotle in the 4th century BCE takes on the diving chamber, a bell-shaped object that looked like an overturned cauldron. The air inside allegedly kept divers beneath the sea in order to retrieve objects. Jumping ahead to the Middle Ages, things got a bit more advanced, but it was not until the Renaissance that designs for diving suits made an appearance. Of course these were mere theory and unlikely to ever be functional. In 1612, Diego Ufano, a Spaniard, described leather diving helmets for salvage work, ?a practice that was ever the impetus for continuing efforts to improve the technology behind the breathing process. His Treatise on Artillery is a seminal work in the history of diving. ?Then in 1691, Edmund Halley, an English astronomer, took the diving bell ball and ran with it to produce a design for a barrel of air with an attached hose. Air in these containers had to be regularly replaced upon reaching the water surface. The commercial salvage industry was born, although still in its infancy.
The Diving Suit Emerges
The 18th century saw the pressure-proof wooden diving barrel come into being from the efforts of John Lethbridge, an English inventor. It was quite unique with a glass porthole for viewing and armholes complete with leather sleeves?watertight no less. The device was released from a ship and could be submerged 66 feet. Thus, the user could dive with free arms to maneuver at will in order to retrieve objects. The Dutch East India Company was busy pillaging wreckage in search of treasure and found the barrel the ideal instrument for divers to maximize their haul. One can see the barrels as prototypes of a diving suit, loosely conceived. It had severe limitations as can be well imagined, prompting further refinement of the concept.
Next, John Smeaton enters the arena, also English, with his steam-powered air pump. It services the diving bell, still in use in 1779. The bells could be submerged for longer periods of time, and at some point the armoured diving suits availed themselves of the new technology. Charles Macintosh, a Scot, joined the ranks of diving inventors with the presentation of a rubber coating around the year 1818. While intended to waterproof canvas, it worked beautifully for the diving suit as well. Add to this innovation the diving helmet and you have the makings for improved submersion.? A major contribution to this diver?s necessity was made a few years later by John and Charles Dean, two British salvage operators, who modified a firefighting helmet to allow for the injection of air.? With foresight, they placed the device on the diver?s shoulders so that air could escape under the edges. Again, it was plagued with drawbacks like other early attempts to conquer submersion, since it would fill with water should a diver fall.
In spite of obvious limitations, diving mechanisms continued to develop and evolve. August Siebe from Germany must be mentioned for his 1840?s work on the ?closed dress? helmet design. Now the head gear was, in effect, sealed off from the liquid elements of the sea and an exhaust valve and air pump were cleverly included. Neck and foot weights kept divers upright to avoid drowning after a stumble or two. The divers also donned thick woollens under their suits to ward off low temperatures. Miraculously, this design dominated the deep sea field for one hundred years.
Decompression Sickness (DCS)
The equipment was getting there but could not yet prevent decompression sickness. Divers would suffer from DCS repeatedly until in 1878, a French physiologist, Paul Bert, tackled the problem literally head on. He recognized the role of nitrogen as the pernicious cause and made the suggestion that divers and caisson workers slowly return to the surface. It took another thirty years for J.S. Haldane, a Scot, to inaugurate the use of decompression tables. This helped combat gas poisoning and decompression sickness alike and diving was on its way to becoming a modern enterprise.
Self-contained breathing systems were highly sought after in the early 20th century to allow for autonomous diving without a required connection to the water surface. There was a compressed air tank with a primitive regular as early as 1865 due to the invention of Benoit Rouquayrol and August Denayrouze from France. ?Divers could adjust their air flow in what was called an ?open circuit? system. They inhaled air from a tank and vented the waste gases into the water. The diver still had to use a hose to the surface pump air into the tank, but it could be disconnected short-term to allow for inhaling from the tank alone. It was an acceptable system but not good enough. Henry Fleuss, an Englishman, came along in 1878 to produce something more autonomous. He used a breathing bag that was supplied with pressurized oxygen injected into a copper tank. Now there was a true ?closed system? in place, also known as a rebreather. Exhaled air, in effect, could be recirculated and carbon dioxide removed. Oxygen was injected to replace what had been consumed and the diver simply breathed it again. The German firm Draeger made the oxygen rebreathers beginning in 1911 to enrich air for divers wanting more independence. Naval divers jumped on the bandwagon, especially during World War I and II since they no longer had to worry about emission of visible surface bubbles that gave their presence away.
Scuba gear is commonplace and taken for granted but it, too, had to evolve over time. Beginning in the 1930?s, it came into being. Guy Gilpatric, an American inventor, is credited with the basic mask while kudos go to Steve Butler from England for the snorkel.? It remained for Frenchman Louis de Corlieu to add fins to the mix. A major breakthrough, however, was Jacques Cousteau?s open-circuit scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus).? The then naval officer had help from engineer Emile Gagnan. 1943 marks the year they combined a two-stage regulator and a high-pressure tank. The diver breathed from the regulator (first invented by Rouquayrol and Denayrouze) which supplied air upon intake. It was a big improvement over manual systems.? The diver was now in full control using what was deemed the Aqua Lung. The public gained access shortly after in 1946 and the device took off worldwide. ?To round out diving gear progress, Frenchman Maurice Fenzy created the first commercially successful buoyancy compensator in 1961.
1950 was a seminal year for diving inventions. The Aqua Lung had been born.? Statistics show that worldwide around 30,000 scuba divers were ripe for more innovations. As a result of improvements in equipment, the number rose to over one million in just a decade. Now the field boasts of tens of millions, a truly astounding phenomenon. The equipment has come into its own with better tanks, masks, snorkels, and fins. Jacques Cousteau had it made, but today?s divers have it better. It is safer and more enjoyable than ever before. You can go deeper for longer periods of time, which had always been the goal since inception. The computer has its role in providing much-needed data on depth, water temperature, dive times, and breathing rate. It couldn?t be more stream-lined in theory and practice. Decompression stops are more frequent and scooters have eliminated leg propulsion as a means of getting around. There are waterproof MP3 players to make the experience thoroughly enjoyable. Better cell phones underwater are around the corner. Texting and photographing under the sea will be routine practices very soon.
The future of diving
Diving equipment has had an interesting history and recognized longevity as an occupation. Rebreathers are the wave of the future. They are a commercial device that leisure divers can use to extend their time beneath the sea. Previously it required cumbersome multiple tanks of gas. With rebreathers, the sport or vocation has been enhanced considerably. Don?t be surprised to see submersible vehicles come on the scene as well. While expensive rich man?s toys, they are effective, break barriers, and allow for extensive exploration of the seabed. No doubt more innovations will appear in the near future. Diving limits have been turned into diving assets. Free divers, in particular, have an advantage with the device (since they don?t use scuba gear) and have set records of more than 500 feet. Scuba divers, not to be outdone, have also reached depths of 1,100 feet used mixed gas inhalation.? Attaining new goals is now possible, and once day we expect to conquer the Pacific Ocean (6.8 miles to the bottom). Technology is indeed the diving industry?s best friend.