|Born: Jun 11, 1910 in Saint-André-de-Cubzac
|Died: Jun 25, 1997 (at age 87) in Paris, France|
Jacques Cousteau was a famous marine underwater explorer who was born in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France in 1910. To give him greater freedom to move underwater, and to enable him to spend more time there, he invented the aqualung, now more commonly called scuba gear.
Having been brought up in Paris, it is difficult to understand Cousteau’s interest in the sea. However, he seems to have been fascinated with the maritime world from an early age. He was known to build models of maritime equipment. On leaving school, where he was not a good student, Cousteau enrolled in the French Naval Academy, located at Brest in western France.
It was during his naval career that he first developed an interest in the underwater world. After a friend loaned him a pair of underwater goggles in 1936, Cousteau was enchanted by what he saw under the sea. He immediately began experimenting with ways to stay under the water for longer. He combined the Le Prieur breathing apparatus, which dated from 1926, with a new regulator invented in 1942, to create the first aqualung in 1943.
Cousteau also started developing an interest in underwater photography, and won an award in 1943 for making the very first French documentary about life under the surface of the sea. He made several films with Philippe Tailliez, and in 1946 the pair was put in charge of the newly formed Underwater Research Group by the French Navy.
When World War II came to an end, one of Cousteau’s duties with the French Navy was working to remove unexploded mines from French coastal waters. Cousteau served on board a minesweeper, and it was this boat that would eventually become the famous Calypso that Cousteau used for his worldwide travels.
Cousteau had begun doing archeological explorations underwater during his time in the navy, and he decided to carry on this type of work when he left the navy in 1949. The following year, he founded the private research company, French Oceanographic Campaigns (FOC), and leased the Calypso for a nominal sum to serve as the research vessel.
Cousteau traveled extensively on board Calypso carrying out archaeological surveys, filming extensively, and conducting environmental campaigns. He was strongly opposed to the dumping of nuclear waste at sea, and actively campaigned against the French government to have the practice stopped.
In 1961, in recognition of his work and his environmental campaigning, Cousteau was awarded a Gold Medal by National Geographic. He received the award from President Kennedy at a White House reception.
Cousteau’s first televised documentary aired in 1966. Entitled The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the one-hour special was well received by critics and audiences alike. Noting the popularity of the documentary, ABC television contracted Cousteau to produce “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” which was to make Cousteau a household name.
Cousteau was a prolific author and filmmaker. He received numerous awards and recognitions from around the world. He created the Cousteau Foundation to foster underwater research and environmental awareness. He died following a heart attack in 1997.