Legends of Diving Articles

 

René Bussoz
Founder of US Divers


A young René in alps

Due to the overnight growth and the large government contracts, René had to move from his Westwood location to the much larger West Pico Blvd address in Los Angeles which would house the US Divers plant and Home Office. Harry Rice became U S Diver's Sales Manager and his past experience selling basketballs and footballs gave him the needed edge in sales and marketing to help make the enterprise a success. It was during this move that René's partner, Maurice Oliver, decided to leave, feeling that regulators were just not profitable.

René enjoyed the attention which came with the Aqua Lung and eagerly went to Chicago to a sports equipment show to promote his product and set up distributors throughout the country. He invited his distributors to Los Angeles to provide more detailed demonstrations of the Aqua Lung and build enthusiasm for the product. At this time, you could buy a tank, a valve, and a regulator for only $140. US Divers was the major player at this time and reaping the monetary benefits.

During the early 1950's, Jacques Cousteau saw Bussoz's business grow and realized how great the potential revenue of the Aqua Lung truly was. René had the patent rights to various regulators and company names and Cousteau wanted to regain control of the business. There was tension between the two men, however, so in 1957 Air Liquide called upon their trusted employee, Emile Gagnan, to negotiate with Bussoz. Gagnan lived in Montréal and had already established a good working relationship with René, sending parts from Canada to US Divers in L.A. on a regular basis. Emile had René's respect and trust and was able to negotiate a price of 2 million dollars for all rights and equipment associated with US Divers. Years later, the business would restore its original name of Aqua Lung.

One of the main reasons René sold the company was because he was turned down for naturalization and was unable to make a permanent home in the U.S. There was some controversy as to whether he was eligible for citizenship, but eventually the courts decided that he had forfeited that right due to papers he had signed during WWII, exempting him from military service.


One of his clothing tags from his shop in Paris

Bussoz had also been to federal court battling charges that he had not paid tariffs on goods he brought into the United States. René was a master at avoiding these tariff charges. For example, he would import fins without straps, saying they were put together here in the U.S. when the straps were later attached. He was an enterprising businessman and knew how to work the system to his advantage.

Though René had made good use of his time in the United States, becoming a millionaire overnight, he was eventually forced to leave the glamorous Hollywood environment he so loved. He returned to France and became a successful golf course entrepreneur in Opio-Valbonne in 1956. He lived out the rest of his days there until he died at Mougins Alpres-Maritimes in the South of France on June 15, 1989. His ashes were placed under the 18th green of his golf course in Valbonne.

There is no doubt that René left his mark on the world of diving, being instrumental in bringing the manufacturing of scuba diving equipment to the United States, and promoting it through his high profile Hollywood connections. A colorful, if controversial, Legend of Diving indeed!

(ILD would like to thank Jordon Klein, Scuba America by Zale Parry and Al Tillman, for their contributions to this article.)

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