Emile Gagnan and the Aqualung
Childhood and studies
Emile Gagnan was born in 1900 in Burgundy, a province in France. He graduated from a technical school in the 1920s and worked as an engineer for the gas supply firm Air Liquide afterwards. Gagnan specialized in high-pressure pneumatic design.
Gagnan and his design partner Jacques-Yves Cousteau made the first production “Scaphandre Autonome” or “Aqualung” in France in 1946. Before that time, the 1943 model that Cousteau and Gagnan developed had to be tested. Divers in the Mediterranean put the apparatus to work and quietly changed the frontiers of human exploration forever.
Aqualung - the Revolutionary Invention
The Aqualung design was revolutionary in that it had a demand-valve that regulated a diver’s air supply automatically. Gagnan had worked with similar valves in gas-generator engines, and he had seen that it might have applications in other fields too. The Aqualung supplies air to the diver as it is needed. This allows the air pressure in the diver’s lungs to equal the pressure of the water, which was an enormous breakthrough in safety.
But Gagnan did not limit his imagination to only diving. He also invented other things, such as mechanical razors. He had teamed up with Cousteau at the behest of his employer, where Cousteau’s father-in-law was a member of the Board of Directors. The collaboration was successful beyond anyone’s imagination. The development of a completely autonomous diving system gave divers freedom of movement under the seas
New Start in the New World
Just one year after the Aqualung went into production in France, Gagnan and his family left France for Montreal, Canada, where he went to work for Canadian Liquid Air Ltd. There, Gagnan set up his laboratory for the engineering, designing, and prototyping of an impressive series of breakthroughs in diving technology. Most every type of Scuba regulator in common use today owes its existence to Emile Gagnan.
After the Aqualung went into production, success was rapid. In 1951, Aqualung systems were available in Canada and Britain. They were made available in the U.S. in 1952, and the company U.S. Divers was established. In 1958, Air Liquide, Gagnan’s employer in France purchased U.S. Divers and started calling it Aqua Lung America. This company became part of Aqua Lung International, which was established by Air Liquide in 1988. It is now the biggest diving company in the world. The Aqualung system is a component of almost every set of Scuba gear worldwide.
The elegant design of the Aqualung was an affordable, safe method of “breathing” underwater. This allowed undersea exploration to expand exponentially, and over the decades made Scuba diving into an internationally known and enjoyed sport.
And that is why now, more than 60 years after the Aqualung went into production in France, it is still a pillar in the sport of diving. Emile Gagnan will forever be remembered as one of the world’s most dedicated and gifted inventors.