A little bit of history on...

The scaphandre autonome


The Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA)


One of my passions, you'll understand is the collection of old regulators of Spirotechnique brand, a symbol of the modern scuba diving.

However it seems necessary for people who visit this site without historical notion of the modern diving, to know that all was not invented by a single man in 1946, Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

On the contrary, the history of the Marine Environment Discovery goes back to antiquity, but the great revolution will take place during the nineteenth century with the invention of the regulator ...






Scuba word was coined in 1775 by the Abbot "De La Chapelle" to name his invention, a kind of cork lifejackets allowing soldiers to float and cross the river (Photo 1). Scaphandre comes from the Greek skaphe (boat) and andros (man), and thus means boat man.

In ours days scaphandre word no longer refers at all to the invention of the Abbot "De La Chapelle" but remained in french language use to refer to a set of devices, or combinations allowing a person evolving safe in an environment that is hostile to him (example: diver heavy feet, scuba diving or spacesuit).





The first regulator of the story is an invention of Dr. Theodore Manuel Guillaumet 1838. But it is not autonomous, the air is supplied by a pump surface.It's not included an intermediate storage between air supply and diver.


The history of scuba really began in the Aveyron department (middle of France) in April 14, 1860 where the french Benoit Rouquayrol filed a patent for a "regulator" for a rescue device for miners, victims of gas explosions and flooded galleries. It is a regulator which works on the same way as the one of Théodore Guillaumet.


On January 16, 1862 was born a new patent: the "Isoleur Rouquayrol" composed of the regulator and a mask with nose clip and mouthpiece made with a vulcanized rubber attached to a metal spout. This system eliminates the heavy diver's helmet.


March 11, 1864 Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze sharing an intermediate reservoir patent for the version supplied by pumping manual pump surface and also, in alternative use, a compressed air storage inflated to 40 atmospheres for the autonome version. This is the device Rouquayrol-Denayrouze (Photo 2), the first to be designed for underwater diving. For this patent from 1864 two changes compared to 1860 will follow in controller adaptation to diving. The first is the type called "low pressure" (8 and 25 liters), supplied with air by a pump and as useful in the marine environment in mines areas. The second model is the type called "high pressure" (35 liters) with a self-contained pressurized air supply 30 kg and allowing an autonomy of half an hour to 10 meters deep. A variant, with iron reinforcing rivets, could be pressurized to 40 kg. To protect the diver from the cold deep sea Rouquayrol and Denayrouze create a waterproof rubberized suit, like that already used by divers of the time. Lead soles of eight kilograms each one complete the equipment. The diver wears a nose clip but no equipment is provided to protect his eyes. A device of this generation of 1864 is exposed at the Museum of Espalion. It is the only copy known and still retains the original Rouquayrol-Denayrouze device. This is the company Piel, heiress to the estate of Denayrouze societies and Charles Petit, who offered it to the museum.

On June 27, 1864, adding to a scuba suit in rubberized cloth designed by the two partners. The patent was filed by including a small bell single window for the head of the diver. The bell air fills up as and expirations of the diver.

But in 1865 Rouquayrol and Denayrouze find that the system of the bell to the gradual filling air is insufficient for protecting the eyes of the diver and that their first design with nose clip and without eye protection should be completely abandoned in favor of a permanent system for protecting eyes diver. They design a facial mask in copper adaptable to a diving suit and they nicknamed it "snout" because of its shape as a snout pig. The air from the regulator enters in the mask through a mouthpiece and expiration gases are discharged through a manual non-return valve. Three patents of this mask-snout succeed in passing from one to three and finally four portholes (Photo 3), but difficulties identified by divers who used it. On 1866 Auguste Denayrouze replaced the mask by a traditional diving helmet with the same mouthpiece and the same stale air exhaust valve.

On September 5, 1865 Rouquayrol and Denayrouze filed a patent for an addition to the suit with a whistle horn that announces a low level of air reserve and on 17 February 1866, the patent of a metallic filter that prevents the particles Marines come hinder the regulator mechanism.

Later, Auguste Denayrouze on January 1873 register two other patents, that the Denayrouze valve push-button, on which the plunger can be pressed by a pressure head.

Also on 1873, the Denayrouze helmet with three bolts. The three bolts are those who hold the diving suit by pinching it between the cap of the helmet. The air supply is no longer a mouthpiece but directly into the helmet, which always includes the exhaust air and exhaust valve, novelty, push button, which enjoys an independent patent. An intermediate tank between the pump and the helmet closed space ensures regularity of the air intake, which protects the pressure differences of the diver's ears generated by the jerks of traditional pumps that previously sent the air directly into the helmet divers.

For his part, Louis Denayrouze, the brother of Auguste lays 3 other patents:

On June 2, 1872: Patent of "Aérophore", a device that again is intended to rescue mining environment, coupled with a tight oil lamp patent can also be used underwater.

The February 1874: patent "Cornet acoustic underwater" first underwater phone allowing the diver to communicate with the crew remained on the surface.

Then finally in 1889, he patents the "Denayrouze helmet hook". This is a helmet fastening with a system without bolts, but using hooks. Several manufacturers are adopting this system, but it does not get the expected success from divers, skeptical about this hook system. This type of suit is the one used in the comic Tintin and" Red Rackham's Treasure".

The Diving Bell and Rouquayrol Denayrouze also inspire Jules Verne for his book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.






Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

It's missing to the diver equipped with a scuba equipement  the possibility to take off the bottom and evolve into the water as a fish. It's Louis Marie de Corlieu, French military to be the inventor of modern diving fins.


For its first prototype (Photo 4), in 1914 he made a demonstration in front of french navy officers, including Yves Le Prieur who would invent in 1926 (and in 1934, develop) a scuba diving equipement . In 1939, De Corlieu could finally begin his production of its fins, which until then he had to made it on his apartment in Paris. In that same year of 1939, the American Owen P. Churchill bought a license to manufacture in the United States the Corlieu's fins and began to market them. They were adopted in 1940 by marines of the US Navy  who used its also during the Normandy landings.

In 1925, the commander Yves Le Prieur watch at the "Grand Palais" in Paris a demonstration that Maurice Fernez made of his underwater breathing apparatus, supplied in air by a surface pump. He offers to replace the pump and its breathing tube by a compressed air cylinder, the same used by Michelin for its puncture repair kit which then equipped cars in this time. This system will provide the diver autonomy and independence from the surface. Fernez agreed and in 1926 they filed a patent for their scuba diving equipement, called the "scaphandre autonome Fernez-Le Prieur" (Photo 5). The contributions of Fernez included a nose clip, google called "Fernez google" and a non-return valve for the escape of air expiration of the diver. The contribution of Le Prieur was a manual regulator (or manoregulator) that he had designed and coupled to the compressed air cylinder. Le Prieur replace the google and the nose clip of Fernez by a small porthole mask, safer, in 1931. It scuba manual valves could delivered air only with a constant pressure depending on the hand controlled valves.




In 1935 Georges Commeinhes filed a patent for a breathing apparatus for firefighters. it combines "Rouquayrol and Denayrouse" regulator and the cylinder "Le Prieur".

Then in 1937 he released an amphibious version to be approved by the French Navy.

It was not until 1942 that George Commeinhes file a patent for his self contained underwater breathing apparatus, he named it the GC 42 (Photo 6).

The scuba unit is shrouded with two cylinders of 4 or 5 liters, a diaphragm regulator, a pressure gauge, an audible alarm. He will made a dive in Marseille at the depth of 53 meters in july 30, 1943.

During the German occupation in Paris, Émile Gagnan adapt the regulator Rouquayrol-Denayrouze  for powered car engines that run on gas, following the fuel shortage over the war (Photo 7 ). He filed a patent for its own regulator, a miniaturization of the regulator "Rouquayrol-Denayrouze" made of bakelite.

At that time the boss of Gagnan was Henry Melchior, former admiral of the French Navy became director of the Air Liquide company. Simone Melchior was the daughter of Henry Melchior, wife of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a midshipman who since his meeting with Lieutenant Commander Philippe Tailliez, sought to improve the "scaphandre autonome" invented by Yves Le Prieur . When Melchior learned of the invention of Gagnan, he spoke directly to his son, Cousteau, and the two men met in Paris in December 1942. Two months later the prototype, fitted with a single hose, was tested by Cousteau in the Marne (photo 8). The regulator is found it hard to inspiration upside down and fusing head up and he had to be horizontal to breathe correctly. Cousteau suggested some modifications including a second hose for returning the expiration against the membrane to conpenser pressure differences. Back to the workshop ... and the regulator Gagnan was tested successfully at sea in June 1943, at Barry Beach in Bandol. Divers tester were Philippe Tailliez, Frédéric Dumas and Jacques-Yves Cousteau (Photo 9), called later the "Mousquemers".

In 1944 Georges Commeinhes died during the liberation of Strasbourg and its regulator will sink into oblivion for the benefit of the invention and Gagnan Cousteau.

Cousteau and Gagnan (Photo 10) introduce a patent of their invention in 1945 under the names "Scaphandre autonome Cousteau-Gagnan 1945 or CG45" and "Aqualung" for export. The commercialization started the year 1946 with the establishment of SARL "La sprirotechnique", an affiliate of the company Air Liquide. With the successful commercialization of the CG 45 the brand become SA "La Spirotechnique" in 1951.

The brand logo (Photo 12) was directly inspired by this historical photo of 1943: the wheel of Dalton (Photo 11). The wreck lies just in front of  the lighthouse of the island of Planier in south of Marseille.

This photo was taken during the making of the film WRECK first film shot with the scuba "Air Liquide" , offering the first underwater sequences in the Mediterranean sea.

Today, the wheel no longer exists, but the stern of the boat and propeller are beautifully covered with purple sea fans.

For fun ... the holy grail of all collectors, the prototype of the CG 45 in 6 photos. They were sent to me by Jacques Chabbert, who want them from Manuel Cabrère of Aqualung-France.

The proud owner is Aqualung, it would be the only copy which still exist today but some rumors says that a second copy will be exists ...

Well, I'll let you discover the range and regulators variants manufactured by SPIROTECHNIQUE between 1946-1998 with five classifications:









Photo 7

Photo 8

Photo 9

Photo 10

Photo 11

Photo 12

This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now