Luigi Fabbri


Often people ask to talk about the origin of things, as diving equipment was born, who invented it, where and, above all, when. All interesting questions to which answers are not always easy to make because often, the result does not correspond to what we believed or, it does not satisfy that proud chauvinism from which only few are immune. Some time ago, jokes told that, in URSS, each important device was invented by an unavoidable Popov: the radio? Popov; the radar? Popov; penicillin? Popov; the car? Popov, etc. And still is today; if in the USA someone asks where diving is born, the unavoidable answer is: California or Florida. If you reply that diving was born in Europe, years before it has been seen in these mythic beaches, you risk being suspected.

Let’s begin with the most known diving gear, such as fins and masks. Leaving some low efficient eccentricities of some old time, fins were born when the French De Corlieu thought to manufacture them by using a very strong material, vulcanized rubber, patenting them in 1933. Before the end of that decade, he transferred his manufacturing right to the Churchill company in the USA, which sold them with their own brand name.

Masks arrived after the googles of Polynesian origin, with a terrible sight, not being coplanar. Mask was invented in 1935 by the French Alec Kramarenko, of Russian origin, by making it with one glass, called monogoogle, with rubber frame. Nose was free as googles, so compensation was not possible and, going into depth, it hurt; it was Raymond Pulvenis in the 38s, who had the idea to introduce those side sticks of self-compensation used in the Ama diver googles. Three years later, the Scandinavian Maxime Forjod was the one who enlarged the frame including the nose, so that you could blow into it, eliminating the sticks however, an indispensable tool was still the nose clip, to compensate ears.
To perfection these tools was the Italian duo Cressi-Ferraro, by transforming in 1951, the fins with fixed strap into the fantastic Rondine with full foot and sloping blade, converting them, in the following year, the oval or round mask in the likewise fantastic Pinocchio mask, with which, finally, the nose clip torture finished.

The spear gun, fundamental tool for 99% of divers in the first decades, is also an opera of Kramarenko: by introducing the spear, a spring was compressed along a metal tube equipped with gun handle. It was the 1937 and, the year after, its license was transferred to different Countries, among them Italy where Malagamba from Genoa, began manufacturing it. Another Frenchman Pelletier took a different direction, being the first to design and produce a very powerful gun, supplied by CO2 contained in its rear tank. It was a gas perfectly suitable for this purpose, passing from a liquid state at a pressure below 60 bars, thus resulting easy to store and pour.
In the run of power, the guns with explosive cartridge with reaction spear were the winners. They were coming from the harpoons for boat fishing and their origin is not clear of where or whom; in any case, in 1954 their more fascinating interpretation was the Mordem models of Demetrio Morabito. The pneumatic spear gun was patented by René Salles in 1944 and, not to have any doubt about its functioning, he sold it in 1948 under the "Pneumatique" name.

With reference to cameras, we all know that the first who took it underwater was Louis Boutan in 1893. To make underwater photography popular were Nikonos of the Japanese Nikon but of French origin because they were born by Calypso Spirotechnique.

To repair from chilly water until after 1950, divers were wearing dry suits made of rubberized fabric, with no valves since still no one had the genius to put air to compensate them. Therefore, during the descent their wrinkles became rigid and hurt skin as cilice, a torture that could only be slightly relived by thick wooden undergarments, like those of the old professional divers. The first, radical change was expanded neoprene, a material invented in America by Hugh Bradner in 1951, right after used by Spirotechnique for the first wet suit in the world. It is difficult to say who was the one who combined the dry suit concept with neoprene and the charge and discharge valves of the air taken from the tank; probably, it was the Swedish Poseidon in 1969 with its Unisuit, difficult to wear and very heavy but useful to make long dives staying heated, also in Northern seas or iced lakes.

30 years back, we find the oxygen rebreather, an apparel already invented in 1878 by the English Henry Fleuss and made it functional by a countryman Robert Davis in 1911 as an emergency device to leave a not functioning submarine in the bottom; the German Dräger sold it in 1922. However, to make its practical use in diving was the Italian Lac, first supplier of oxygen rebreathers of the Royal Italian Navy for the seal needs of "maiali" - pigs.

The self-contained breathing apparatus, conceived in the modern way is, obviously, attributed to Cousteau who patented, in 1945, his CG45 regulator with two hoses, designed together with Eng.  Gagnan. To be more precise, it was preceded by another Frenchman, the extremely unfortunate Commeinhes who patented his GC42 in 1942, immediately accepted by the Armed Forces. It was equipped with a full-face mask to which the hoses were connected, contrariwise to the Cousteau model, which was equipped only with a simple snorkel. Except that Commeinhes died a couple of years after, during one of the several Normandy battles, leaving the Commander with no competition. Cousteau, artfully, for his own device adopted a quite similar name. In fact, either one and the other were not absolute news, best definable as huge evolutions of the Roqueirol-Denayrouze with continuous flow in 1864, perfectioned and adapted to the diving use by another French, Yves Le Prieur in 1934, functioning and used in some wreck recovery operations.
After many historic transitions, in 1952 regulator decides to be small so, the Australian Ted Eldred invents to make one with only one hose like whip and two separate stages: its name was Porpoise, sold in Australia and in USA by the Breathing Appliance Company. Frenchmen are defeated; in fact, the single-hose double stage Cristal of Spirotechnique is dated several months after.

The most modern electronic rebreathers, which are slowly bringing diving to operational levels that we could not think of, less than 20 years ago, in fact they have far origins. It was in 1912 when Dräger introduced its first self-breathing unit with a mixed gas composed of 30% oxygen and 70% nitrogen; this happened to be a semi-closed rebreather with nitrox gas. The unreliability of CO2 absorbent products until the appearance of soda lime in the 30s, the lack of suitable instruments to check ppO2 slowed down the development of these units, that had to wait until 1980 and 1990 to begin their ascent, realized with the first CCR rebreather of good success, the English Buddy Inspiration of Ambient Pressure issued at the end of 1990.

Going to diving vehicles, we don’t happen to know who began with the launch of the long series of gliders and diving wings, towed from the surface during the years 1950-1970, nor to whom to attribute the paternity of several small and large self-propulsion vehicles to ride or on which people were outstretched, often imaginative, inspired to the Italian "maiali" - pigs.
For the DPVs, diver propulsion vehicles, it is inevitable to return to France, where Cousteau in 1951 embarked in its brand-new Calypso ship, leaving for the Red sea, a couple of enormous electric vehicles. They had a quite good autonomy and speed; you could guide them with long handles and they were also armed with Pelletier guns at CO2 against sharks.

With the analogic decompression gauge, we arrive to an Italian invention. Presented by De Sanctis and Alinari of Sos of Turin at the Cmas meeting held in Barcelona in 1959, it went in a brief time, from distrust to its commercial boom, almost immediately present in each part of the world, branded with the names of different companies, which wanted it from the Turin manufacturer. This has been an instrument that “burned” the different attempts to do something similar by the American companies. The decompression gauge, in its several models, has been “a must” for more than two decades, undermined by the innovative electronic diving computers. Also in this field, it has been quite a hassle for the “made in USA”, very busy in researches in this field and beat in this frontline by a tiny Swiss entity, the DiveTronic which, at the end of 1982 introduced the Deco Brain by Hans Hass; what to say: a name, a warranty. After almost a year, The Edge arrived by the American Orca Industries, surely less performant and renamed The Brik, by a jovial technical journalist, who recommended to buy it to whom did not trust to buy; in any case, he said that this unit could always be transformed in a valid door holder!

Outside the equipment sector, in the diving field there are other primacies that always raised discussions. Among diving magazines, the Oscar goes to The Skin Diver, founded in 1951, renamed in Skin Diver Magazine. It was followed by the Italian Mondo Sommerso, which edition number 1 dates July 1959.
Same ranking for diving training associations. The first official diving training school was the Californian UICC born in 1953, between the lines, preceding by little the Italian organization in 1954 of the National center in Nervi and of the National courses. From UICC, after some transformations, NAUI is born.

Probably there will be something more which could merit a paternity primacy however, we believe we listed the main events. If there are important mistakes or omissions, we kindly ask you to let them know.