The first known instances of people breathing stored air under water can actually be found on the walls of caves. Cave paintings can be found depicting people using goat bladders to breath under water. Of course, there were many steps along the way the took us from goat bladders to today’s Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.
The demand valve was the starting point for the scuba regulator we know today. Benoît Rouquayrol, a frenchman, first concepted and patented the demand valve back in 1860. It was initially developed for people to use when entering an area where it was difficult or unsafe to breath, such as a smoke filled room or a poisonous mine. The demand valve wasn’t thought to be used underwater until Rouquayrol met French Navy Lieutenant Auguste Denayrouze. Together, they designed a “regulator” for divers to use underwater with surface-supplied air. It was their regulator that inspired the diving rigs in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, published in 1870.
More than 80 years later, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan created the first scuba system.
Compressed air cylinder systems had been developed prior to 1943, but Cousteau and Gagnan’s design was the first free flowed or hand controlled. In 1943, the Aqua Lung system was the first to successfully use a demand valve to deliver a diver compressed air from a cylinder. The single-stage, double-hosed “scuba-set” placed the demand valve and exhaust valve behind the head, able to deliver high-pressure stored air at a pressure divers could breathe.
This was an amazing innovation at the time. For the first time ever, divers could swim without having a direct connection to the surface.
In 1951, E.R. Cross invented the “Sport Diver,” thought of today as the first modern two-stage, single-hose regulator. Although at about the same time in Australia, Ted Eldred designed a similar system called the “Porpoise,” which leads many to debate who deserves the real credit.
Companies everywhere started to independently produce single-hose scuba regulators.
In 1958, engineers from Sherwood Manufacturing modified the piston regulator for underwater. Several other manufacturers adopted the piston design over the other widely used diaphragm design.
Then in 1985, Sam Le Cocq, in partnership with Sportsways, made the “Waterlung,” the first popular single-hose regulator.
Today, materials and size of scuba regulators differ from brand to brand, but the mechanics are actually surprisingly similar to the regulators made some 60 years ago.
Diving bells, hard hat, and surface supplied air laid the foundation for the equipment recreational scuba divers use today. Scuba diving couldn’t exist today without the regulator or self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (where “scuba” get’s it’s name) and compressed air.