Legends of Diving Articles


Water Lung v. Aqua Lung
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 were noted.

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 himself!?

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 defeated.

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 production.

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
Sportsways Waterlung

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 ?Water Lung?.

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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© 2010 Dr. Sam Miller
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