Scuba Diving History for the Avid Divers

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Scuba diving is a sport that had its humble beginnings in ancient times. In early Greece and Rome, people used to swim or dive while holding their breath or by using makeshift breathing apparatuses like hollow plant stems. This was commonly practiced during combat or while gathering food and materials from the ocean.

We have come a long way since then. Underwater diving evolved from simple freediving or skin diving to the more sophisticated form that we know today thanks to contributions from many great minds throughout the centuries.

Modern scuba diving is built on thousands of years’ worth of innovations in underwater technology—not to mention all of the physiological research on the effects of underwater pressure on the human body and the efforts to create standardized training programs for amateur divers. Now, let’s look at a quick summary of what scientists and experts had to explore, research, and invent to make scuba diving what it is today.

Scuba Diving: Historical Highlights

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Human Instinct

A man swimming in the water

Freediving is as ancient an activity as humanity itself. In fact, it’s what eventually established the art of scuba diving. More than any other sport, freediving is based on old subconscious reflexes in human beings.

For the first nine months of our lives, we humans exist in an aquatic environment very similar to seawater. If an infant is submerged underwater, it instinctively holds its breath for up to 40 seconds while making swimming motions, although we seem to lose this ability as we get older and commence walking. Awakening these reflexes is one of the most important elements of freediving, thus giving humans better abilities to be survive at great depths.


The word Apnea derives from the Greek word “a-pnoia,” which literally means “without breathing.” The origin of this word doesn’t have any connection to water, but in modern athletic terminology, “apnea” has become a synonym for freediving. When used in the context of this sport, “apnea” means diving on a single breath of air without using equipment that make it possible to breathe underwater.

Early Diving Equipment

The first snorkel used by ancient swimmers were hollow reeds that allowed them to breathe underwater. A particularly popular instance of this being used successfully was when a Greek sculptor named Scyllis was captured by Persians and taken prisoner on one of their ships, and he escaped and swam nine miles to rejoin his countrymen with the help of a hollow reed as a makeshift snorkel.

Extended Breathing

British engineer John Smeaton developed the air pump in 1771. It allowed air to be pumped to the diver by being connected to a hose, which was in turn connected to a diving barrel. The following year, Frenchman Sieur Freminet created a rebreathing device that allowed the diver to recycle inhaled air from inside the diving barrel. Unfortunately, despite being the first self-contained air device, its lack of research and development led to his death due to lack of oxygen after using the device for twenty minutes.

Diving Suit Innovations

Soon before the closed circuit oxygen rebreather was invented, the rigid diving suit was developed by Benoît Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze in 1873. The suit weighed about 200 pounds and offered a safer air supply.

Many years later, in 1921, famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini invented a diver’s suit. Called the Houdini suit, it was inspired by his fascination with escape stunts and allowed divers to quickly and safely get out of it while underwater.

These are some important facets of the Scuba Diving History.

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