Legends of Diving Articles
Inventor of the Wet Suit
Died May 8, 2008 at age of 92
would still be shivering and facing a high risk for hypothermia if it weren't
for Hugh Bradner, inventor of the first wetsuit. Bradner, a renowned physicist
and professor emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography died May 5,
2008, in San Diego after a prolonged illness. He was 92.
Bradner had a lifelong passion for the ocean. He enjoyed diving and sailing and
was one of the first Americans to make a deep-water SCUBA dive. In 1951, while
working at University of California, Berkeley, he decided to spend some weekend
time improving diving equipment for Navy frogmen, which began his pioneering
research on the wetsuit. Bradner focused on the design of a wetsuit for military
underwater swimmers and developed a foam wetsuit using a unicellular material
known as neoprene.
"He was an adventurous man who enjoyed traveling," said Walter Munk, professor
emeritus at Scripps, which is part of the University of California, San Diego.
"He built a successful career by combining his geophysical work with his South
Bradner collaborated with scientific divers at Scripps who were experimenting
with the new SCUBA regulator (which supplies divers with breathing gas on
John S. Foster modeling an
early design of the Hugh Bradner wet suit created at Scripps Institution
of Oceanography. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San
and at the proper pressure) invented by Jacques Cousteau and Emile
Gagnan. Scripps divers first tested Bradner's wetsuit designs at their
SCUBA training classes in the pool of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis
"Brad s neoprene wetsuit was a tremendous contribution to scientific
diving," said James Stewart, professor emeritus at Scripps. "He was a
great guy and a lot of fun to work with."
Bradner was well regarded for his collaborative approach to science,
evident in his reluctance to claim himself as sole inventor of the
wetsuit. He continued to consult for the military throughout his
scientific career. His other research endeavors led to novel diving
equipment, including underwater contact lenses, a
single-hose regulator and a decompression meter. Bradner even developed
quickly extracting U.S. Navy and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC
Berkeley. He also worked on the Manhattan Project as one of the founding
scientists of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was at Los Alamos that he
met Marjorie Hall, his wife of 65 years.
In 1961, Bradner joined Scripps as a research geophysicist in the Institute of
Geophysics and Planetary Physics. He published extensively in the fields of
physics, seismology, geophysics and diving.
Bradner was an avid outdoorsman, hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, swimming
in the La Jolla Rough Water Swim and traveling all over the world to enjoy the
oceans. His greatest joy was said to be to watch as he guided students, family
and friends to the discovery of something new. He also was a painter, a
photographer and a jeweler.
Bradner graduated from Caltech with a Ph.D. in physics, where he coached the
swimming and water polo teams. He received his undergraduate degree from the
Miami University in Ohio and received the Miami University medal in 1960 and an
honorary doctorate in 1961.
He is survived by a daughter, Bari Bradner Cornet of Berkeley, Calif., three
grandchildren and a great granddaughter. His wife died April 10.
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