Water Lung v.
by Dr. Sam Miller
" 2006 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.
This story begins in the early days of WW II.
France had surrendered to Germany. Under the terms of the
armistice, Germany would occupy the northern 2/3 of France
including the entire Atlantic coastline and the remaining
1/3 commonly known as "Vichy France" would be under a
provisional government with strong economic and ideological
ties to Germany.
Sam Lecocq was a young man just entering his teens living in
Normandy near the Atlantic coastline in northern
German-occupied France. Jacques Cousteau was a French Naval
officer stationed in southern Vichy France
Thus the stage was set.
Sam was a young school boy who spent his after school hours
as a member of the "Maquis?, the famous French WWII
underground resistance forces also known as the Free French
Forces of the Interior. Because of his youth he initially
served as a lookout or a courier running messages from one
secret hiding place to another. Later he played a more
active role, particularly in the demolition of bridges and
rail lines used to transport German troops and material, and
other clandestine operations for which the Maquis
On D-Day June 6th 1944 Sam and 89 of his fellow Maquis
were on a secret operation in Vichy France. Something went
terribly wrong with the operation, the unit had been
betrayed by Vichy operatives and Sam and his fellow
resistance fighters walked into an ambush. All hope was
lost, the command was given: "Run for it; Every man for
Sam's youth allowed him to run faster and further than his
fellow Maquis. He stopped running in a huge field where he picked
up a rake and furiously began raking the ground for imaginary grain.
German soldiers came by but barely gave this youthful looking Frenchman
a second glance, for one so young and working so hard could not be a
member of the underground.
Sam Lecocq, a
diving legend and
historian, will visit PQ Aug 11-13, 2006.
Of the 90 Maquis who were in the operation 86 were
killed in battle or immediately executed by the Germans.
Only 4 survived; one was Sam Lecocq, who at his young age
had seen and experienced more than any man should be
expected to experience in a life time.
Long before this Jacques Cousteau had returned to civilian
life in German-occupied Paris. The French Navy had scuttled
most of the fleet in Toulon in 1942. Some French sailors and
ships had regrouped outside France to form the Free French
Forces of the Exterior, but Jacques Cousteau never
participated in the fight against the Nazis to free France.
Instead, living in Paris he had ample idle time to commute
to the coast and perfect his free diving skills. He had
married the daughter of the chairman of the board of Aire
Liquide,a powerful French industrial company which, during the war,
produced liquid gas for the Nazi forces.
At Aire Liquide Jacques Cousteau frequently visited a young
French Canadian engineer, Emile Gagnon. Gagnon was
perfecting a demand valve to be used for the automotive
industry. During the war gasoline was in very short supply.
Gagnon had developed a device to operate automobiles using
the partial combustion of wood and other materials. His
demand valve served a similar function as today's
carburetors. At the request of Cousteau Gagnon modified this
automotive demand valve using a design from a 90 year old
French patent for an underwater breathing device called the
?Aerophore" by Benoit Roquayrol and August Denayrouze to
make a breathing regulator for underwater use.
The only modification of the new unit was the location of
the exhaust valve. The Gagnon/Cousteau breathing unit was
further adapted to utilize the high pressure valves and
cylinders marketed by Air Liquide for medical and commercial
oxygen applications, flame throwers for the German army and
a multitude of other uses.
Air Liquide began manufacturing this new breathing unit
which was called the "Aqua Lung?. A special division of Air
Liquide called Spirotechnique was formed to promote and
distribute the "Aqua Lung," with Jacques Cousteau as a
member of the board of directors of Spirotechnique
Air Liquide applied for a patent under the names Emile
Gagnon and Jacques Cousteau for the modification of the
exhaust valve on the Aqua Lung. The application was made
during the war by a very powerful company with a great
influence over the puppet government of Vichy France. The
bureau of patents in France was for all practical purposes
not operational at that time. Thus, a patent was granted
without any research by the French patent office. The
Cousteau/Gagnon patent was vague and limited only to the
location of the exhaust valve. The existence of a prior
patent for the underwater breathing device called the
Aerophore by Roquayrol and Denayrouze was never revealed.
While in Paris Cousteau often visited his brother Pierre who
was a well-known French journalist famous for his strong
inflammatory anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi writings. (Newspaper:
Paris Soir; Book: Jewish America.)
On May 8th 1945 Germany surrendered unconditionally to the
allies and VE (ie Victory in Europe) day was declared, the
war in Europe was over and the Nazis War machine had been
Sam Lecocq returned to civilian life, completed his studies
in France and received a degree from Ministere de la Sante
Public. While attending college young Sam spent all his
leisure time on the Normandy coast diving on the multitude
of wrecks left there by Allied forces using a makeshift
breathing unit that he developed for underwater use. Sam
eventually migrated to the United States where, in
late-1951, he began employment in Los Angeles, California
working for another Frenchman, Rene Bussoz, the founder of
U.S. Divers Company. .At that time US Divers were marketing
?Aqua Lungs" imported from Air Liquide in Canada and France.
After the war Jacques Cousteau busied himself promoting the
?Aqua Lung" and assisting his brother Pierre evade capture
by the authorities. Pierre Cousteau was eventually captured
by the new post war French government . He was tried for
high treason and sentenced to death on November 23, 1946.
His sentence was later reduced to life in prison and in
1966, after serving 20 years of the sentence, Pierre was
found to be suffering from incurable cancer. He was released
to the custody of his soon to be world-famous brother
Jacques. He passed away six months later.
When Sam Lecocq joined U.S.Divers Co. in 1952 Rene Bussoz
was beginning to manufacture the "Aqua Lung" in the US.
Bussoz had an agreement with Aire Liquide to pay a royalty
of 50 cents per unit for the right to manufacture and
distribute this product in the US. Sam was sent to Skokie,
Illinois to the giant Bastian and Blessing Co.,
manufacturers of all types of pressure regulators and
valves, which was contracted to manufacture the first
American-made "Aqua Lungs?. Sam was put in charge of
establishing the manufacturing and supervised the initial
On January 1, 1956 a sale was concluded between Rene Bussoz
and Aire Liquide for the purchase of U.S. Divers Company
with Jacques Cousteau as chairman of the board. Sam Lecocq
was offered a position by Richard (Dick) Klein, founder and
president of a very progressive sporting goods company
called Healthways, to develop a complete line of underwater
products. After consulting with Rene Bussoz, Sam wisely
decided to accept the offer to join Healthways, a company
that was interested in the more innovative products that Sam
was designing and for which became famous.
Since Healthways held the copyright on the world "SCUBA,"
U.S. Divers Co. under Cousteau began to place emphasis on
popularizing the name "Aqua Lung?, but they did not
initially obtain a copyright.
The first ad for the
In 1958 Sam Lecocq founded a new company based on the
Healthways model called Sportsways for the manufacture and
distribution of recreational diving equipment. One of his first
products was a revolutionary single-hose regulator called the
This play on words did not please a litigious Cousteau and
U.S. Divers Co., who had been actively promoting their "Aqua
Lung?. Consequently Cousteau and U.S. Divers sued Sam Lecocq
and Sportways Co. insisting they cease and desist using the
product name "Water Lung?, which had been previously
registered with the US copyright office.
A wise judge ruled in favor of Sam Lecocq and Sportways.
?Water Lung" was indeed distinct name identity and a valid
name for this new revolutionary regulator.
Dr. Sam Miller
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