By Mary Bellis
Modern scuba diving gear consists of one or more gas tanks strapped to the divers back, connected to an air hose and an invention called the demand regulator. The demand regulator controls the flow of air, so that the air pressure within the diver's lungs equals the pressure of the water. Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau invented the demand regulator and the autonomous diving suit.
Early Diving History - The First Diving Suits
Divers probably began using snorkels made of hollow reeds about 100 A.D. as the first piece of diving equipment. By 1300, Persian divers were using underwater eye-goggles, made from the polished shells or tortoises. In the 16th century, barrels were used as primitive diving bells, and for the first time divers could travel underwater with more than one breath of air, but not much more than one.
In 1771, British engineer, John Smeaton invented the air pump. A hose was connected between the air pump and the diving barrel, allowing air to be pumped to the diver. In 1772, Frenchmen, Sieur Freminet invented a 'rebreathing' device that recycled the exhaled air from inside of the barrel, this was the first self-contained air device. Freminet's invention was a poor one, the inventor died from lack of oxygen after being in his own device for twenty minutes.
In 1825, English inventor, William James designed another self-contained breather -- a cylindrical iron "belt" attached to a copper helmet. The belt held about 450psi of air, enough for a seven-minute dive.
In 1876, Englishmen, Henry Fleuss invented a closed circuit, oxygen rebreather. His invention was originally intended to be used in a repair of an iron door of a flooded ship's chamber. Fleuss then decided to use his invention for a thirty-foot deep dive underwater. He died from the pure oxygen; oxygen is toxic to humans under pressure.
Rigid Diving Suits
In 1873, Benoît Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze built a new piece of equipment, with a perfected air supply, and a total weight of 85 kilos.
Houdini Suit - 1921
Famous magician, Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary in 1874) was also an inventor. Houdini began his career as a trapeze artist and was later renowned as a magician and an escape artist. Harry Houdini astonished audiences by escaping from handcuffs, straitjackets, and prison cells. Houdini's invention for a "diver's suit" permits divers, in case of danger, to quickly divest themselves of the suit while submerged and to safely escape and reach the surface of the water.