Legends of Diving Articles

 

René Bussoz
Founder of US Divers

During this time, movie stars such as Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller frequented René's sports shop. These two were involved in the first dive with the first six regulators that didn't work. As there were no adjustments on the regulators at that time, they literally had to bend the metal to get them to work correctly and safely. At first, René wanted to cancel the order and return all of the regulators but his friend, Glenn McCall insisted he could make them work with a little effort and ingenuity. McCall's efforts were rewarded and they eventually got on Bob Vincent's boat and made their first successful dive with the Aqua Lungs on the West Coast.

It wasn't always smooth sailing, however, and there obstacles to overcome. One issue was air fills for the tanks. French tanks didn't have the US ICC rating, but René had a friend at UCLA and so they could fill tanks there for some time. Eventually, however, tanks were being sent to René's shop for air fills so he put an air compressor in the bathroom above his shop. The compressor ran almost non-stop. One day, while René was waiting on a customer at the counter, the compressor blew up and metal parts came crashing down through the ceiling. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but because the shop area was so small, it was a close call.


René and a girl friend in Paris

The regulators were put together in France and some of them were very crude. René knew he needed help so he hired Glenn McCall as a contract worker and later Dick Anderson who answered an ad placed by Bussoz in the newspaper. Despite being a high school dropout, Anderson had the mechanical aptitude of an engineer and soon Glenn and he became the catalyst behind René's profitable business. Glenn had already built a regulator himself in 1948 and had released it on the market under the name Water Gill, albeit with little commercial success. His background and skills, however, made him just the right man to help René get this new venture off the ground.

René was a born salesman, but did not like to spend money and refused to advertise. At that time there were high tariffs on imports, but René knew how to get around this because of his father's business. He started importing parts and assembling the regulators at the Westwood shop. During this time, he received a huge order for regulators for the US Navy. The contract was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so he went to Paris to meet with Cousteau and received exclusive rights for the Aqua Lung in the U.S. At this time there were a few stores on the East Coast which also went to Bussoz.

Since this lucrative contract was with the government, René knew he had to use parts made in the United States and formed his own company, US Divers. At first Bussoz utilized Walter Kidde Fire Extinguisher tanks with oxygen valves to serve as dive tanks. Due to safety issues with these tanks, however, he went to Pressed Steel of Milwaukee and had tanks built specifically for his company. These tanks were stamped with the now famous "René 1953" signature. He had valves made in Chicago at Bastian Blessing and soon René was manufacturing all the parts in the United States.

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