Jacques Cousteau (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Cousteau is the father of underwater exploration, having coinvented (with Émile Gagnon) the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) in 1943. Cousteau has shared his explorations of the underwater world with millions of people around the world through his films, books, and television productions. Cousteau has also directed the engineering of several underwater living structures and systems as well as the design of an oceangoing vessel using a rigid turbosail for propulsion.
Elizabeth (Duranthon) Cousteau vowed that her second child would be born in her native village of Saint-André-de-Cubzac on the banks of the Dordogne River. Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born on June 11, 1910, son of Daniel P. Cousteau and Elizabeth, in her ancestral home in the heart of Bordeaux, as she had wanted. Jacques had a brother, Pierre, four years his senior. The Cousteaus were a family in constant motion. Daniel was an attorney to wealthy American magnate James Hazen Hyde. Daniel and family followed Hyde until World War I. After the war, the elder Cousteau severed his relationship with Hyde to work for another wealthy American, Eugene Higgins, and the Cousteaus moved to New York when Jacques was ten.
As a young student, Jacques was bored by academics, although he held a fascination for mechanical devices of all kinds. When the family moved back to Paris in 1922, Jacques purchased his own...
(The entire section is 2243 words.)
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Cousteau, Jacques-Yves (1910-1997) (World of Earth Science)
Jacques Cousteau was known as the co-inventor of the aqualung, along with his television programs, feature-length films, and books, all of which have showcased his research on the wonders of the marine world. Cousteau helped demystify undersea life, documenting its remarkable variety, its interdependence, and its fragility. Through the Cousteau Society, which he founded, Cousteau led efforts to call attention to environmental problems and to reduce marine pollution.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born in St. André-de-Cubzac, France, on June 11, 1910 to Elizabeth Duranthon and Daniel Cousteau. Jacques, for the first seven years of his life, suffered from chronic enteritis, a painful intestinal condition. In 1918, after the Treaty of Versailles, Daniel found work as legal adviser to Eugene Higgins, a wealthy New York expatriate. Higgins traveled extensively throughout Europe, with the Cousteau family in tow. Cousteau recorded few memories from his childhood; his earliest impressions, however, involved water and ships. His health greatly improved around this time, thanks in part to Higgins, who encouraged young Cousteau to learn how to swim.
In 1920, the Cousteaus accompanied Higgins to New York City. Here, Jacques attended Holy Name School in Manhattan, learning the intricacies of stickball and roller-skating. He spent his summers at a camp on Vermont's Lake Harvey, where he first learned to dive underwater. At age 13, after a trip south of the American border, he authored a hand-bound book he called "An Adventure in Mexico." That same year, he purchased a Pathé movie camera, filmed his cousin's marriage, and began making short melodramatic films.
During his teens, Cousteau was expelled from a French high school for "experimenting" on the school's windows with different-sized stones. As punishment, he was sent to a military-style academy near the French-German border, where he became a dedicated student. He graduated in 1929, unsure of which career path to follow. The military won out over filmmaking simply because it offered the opportunity for extended travel. After passing a rigorous entrance examination, he was accepted by the Ecole Navale, the French naval academy. His class embarked on a one-year world cruise, which he documented, filming everything and everyonerom Douglas Fairbanks, the famous actor, to the Sultan of Oman. After graduating second in his class in 1933, he was promoted to second lieutenant and sent to a naval base in Shanghai, China. His assigned duty was to survey and map the countryside, but in his free time he filmed the locals in China and Siberia.
In the mid930s, Cousteau returned to France and entered the aviation academy. Shortly before graduation, in 1936, he was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident that mangled his left forearm. His doctors recommended amputation but he steadfastly refused. Instead, he chose rehabilitation, using a regimen of his own design. He began taking daily swims around Le Mourillon Bay to rehabilitate his injured arm. He fell in love with goggle diving, marveling at the variety and beauty of undersea life. He later wrote in his book The Silent World: "One Sunday morning waded into the Mediterranean and looked into it through Fernez goggles was astonished by what I saw in the shallow shingle at Le Mourillon, rocks covered with green, brown and silver forests of algae and fishes unknown to me, swimming in crystalline waterometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me at Le Mourillon on that summer's day, when my eyes were opened on the sea."
During his convalescence he met 17-year-old Simone Melchior, a wealthy high-school student who was living in Paris. After a one-year courtship, the couple married and moved into a house near Le Mourillon Bay. The Cousteaus' first son, Jean-Michel, was born in March of 1938. A second son, Philippe, was born in 1939. Around this time, the new family's tranquil life on the edge of the sea was threatened by world events. In 1939, France began preparing for war, and Cousteau was promoted to gunnery officer aboard the Dupleix. The war was largely limited to ground action, however, and Germany quickly overran the ill-prepared French Army. Living in the unoccupied section of France enabled Cousteau to continue his experiments and allowed him to spend many hours with his family. In his free time, he experimented with underwater photography devices and tried to develop improved diving apparatuses. German patrols often questioned Cousteau about his use of diving and photographic equipment. Although he was able to convince authorities that the equipment was harmless, Cousteau was, in fact, using these devices on behalf of the French resistance movement. For his efforts, he was later awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm.
Cousteau regretted the limitations of goggle diving; he simply could not spend enough time under water. The standard helmet and heavy suit apparatus had similar limitations; the diver was helplessly tethered to the ship, and the heavy suit and helmet made Cousteau feel awkward in his movements. A number of experiments with other diving equipment followed, but all the existing systems proved unsatisfactory. He designed his own "oxygen re-breathing outfit," which was less physically constrictive but which ultimately proved ineffective and dangerous. Also during this period he began his initial experiments with underwater filmmaking. Working with two colleagues, Philippe Talliez, a naval officer, and Frédéric Dumas, a renowned spearfisherman, Cousteau filmed his first underwater movie, Sixty Feet Down, in 1942. The 18-minute film reflects the technical limitations of underwater photography but was quite advanced for its time. Cousteau entered the film in the Cannes Film Festival, where it received critical praise and was purchased by a film distributor.
As pleased as he was with his initial efforts at underwater photography, Cousteau realized that he needed to spend more time underwater to accurately portray the ocean's mysteries. In 1937, he began collaboration with Emile Gagnan, an engineer with a talent for solving technical problems. In 1942, Cousteau again turned to Gagnan for answers. The two spent approximately three weeks developing an automatic regulator that supplied compressed air on demand. This regulator, along with two tanks of compressed air, a mouthpiece, and hoses, was the prototype Aqualung, which Gagnan and Cousteau patented in 1943.
That summer, Cousteau, Talliez, and Dumas tested the Aqualung off the French Riveria, making as many as five hundred separate dives. This device was put to use on the group's next project, an exploration of the Dalton, a sunken British steamer. This expedition provided material for Cousteau's second movie, Wreck. The film deeply impressed French naval authorities, who recruited Cousteau to assist with the dangerous task of clearing mines from French harbors. When the war ended, Cousteau received a commission to continue his research as part of the Underwater Research Group, which included both Talliez and Dumas. With increased funding and ready access to scientists and engineers, the group expanded its research and developed a number of innovations, including an underwater sled.
In 1947, Cousteau, using the Aqualung, set a world's record for free diving, reaching a depth of 300 feet. The following year, Dumas broke the record with a 306-foot dive. The team developed and perfected many of the techniques of deep-sea diving, working out rigorous decompression schedules that enabled the body to adjust to pressure changes. This physically demanding, dangerous work took its toll; one member of the research team was killed during underwater testing.
On July 19, 1950, Cousteau bought Calypso, a converted U.S. minesweeper. The next year, after undergoing significant renovations, Calypso sailed for the Red Sea. The Calypso Red Sea Expedition (19512) yielded numerous discoveries, including the identification of previously unknown plant and animal species and the discovery of volcanic basins beneath the Red Sea. In February of 1952, Calypso sailed toward Toulon. On the way home, the crew investigated an uncharted wreck near the southern coast of Grand Congloué and discovered a large Roman ship filled with treasures. The discovery helped spread Cousteau's fame in France. In 1953, with the publication of The Silent World, Cousteau achieved international notice. The book, drawn from Cousteau's daily logs, was written originally in English with the help of U.S. journalist James Dugan and later translated into French. Released in more than 20 languages, The Silent World eventually sold more than five million copies worldwide.
In 1953, Cousteau began collaborating with Harold Edgerton, a pioneer in high-speed photography who had invented the strobe light and other photographic devices. Edgerton and his son, William, spent several summers aboard Calypso, outfitting the ship with an innovative camera that skimmed along the ocean floor, sending back blurry but intriguing photos of deep-sea creatures. The death of William Edgerton in an unrelated diving accident effectively ended the experiments, but Cousteau had already realized the limitations of such a method of exploring the ocean depths. Instead, he and his team began work on a small, easily maneuverable submarine, which he called the diving saucer, or DS. The sub has made more than one thousand dives and has been part of countless undersea discoveries.
In 1955, Calypso embarked on a 13,800-mile journey that was recorded by Cousteau for a film version of The Silent World. The ninety-minute film premiered at the 1956 Cannes International Film Festival, where it received the coveted Palme d'Or. The following year, the film won an Oscar from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1957, in part due to his film's success, Cousteau was named director of the Oceanographic Institute and Museum of Monaco. He filled the museum's aquariums with rare and unusual species garnered from his ocean expeditions.
Cousteau addressed the first World Oceanic Congress in 1959, an event that received widespread coverage and led to his appearance on the cover of Time magazine on March 28, 1960. The highly favorable story painted Cousteau as a poet of the deep. In April of 1961, Cousteau received the National Geographic Society's Gold Medal at a White house ceremony hosted by President John F. Kennedy. The medal's inscription reads: "To earthbound man he gave the key to the silent world."
During the early 1960s, Cousteau and his crew participated in the Conshelf Saturation Dive program, which was intended to prove the feasibility of extended underwater living. The success of the first mission led to Conshelf II, a month-long project involving five divers. The Conshelf program and the DS project provided material for the 53-minute film World without Sun, which debuted in the United States in December of 1964.
Cousteau's first hour-long television special, "The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau," was broadcast in 1966. The program's high ratings and critical acclaim helped Cousteau land a lucrative contract with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau premiered in 1968, and has since been rebroadcast in hundreds of countries. The program starred Cousteau and his sons, Philippe and Jean-Michel. The show ran for eight seasons, with the last episode airing in May of 1976. In 1977, the Cousteau Odyssey series premiered on the Public Broadcasting System. The new show reflected Cousteau's growing concern about environmental destruction and tended not to focus on specific animal species.
In the 1970s, the Cousteau Society, a nonprofit environmental group that also focuses on peace issues, opened its doors in Bridgeport, Connecticut. By 1975, the society had more than 120,000 members and had opened branch offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Norfolk, Virginia. Eventually, Cousteau decided to make Norfolk the home base for Calypso.
On June 28, 1979, Philippe Cousteau was killed when the seaplane he was piloting crashed on the Tagus River near Lisbon, Portugal. Philippe's death deeply affected Cousteau, who was to his death unable to talk about the accident or the loss of his son. Philippe was expected to eventually take command of his father's empire; instead, Jean-Michel was given increased responsibility for overseeing the Cousteau Society and his father's other ventures.
In 1980, Cousteau signed a one-million-dollar contract with the National Office of Canadian Film to produce two programs on the greater St. Lawrence waterway. In 1984, the Cousteau Amazon series premiered on the Turner Broadcasting System. The four shows were enthusiastically reviewed, and called attention to the threatened native South American cultures, Amazon rain forest, and creatures that lived in one of the world's great rivers. The final show of the series, "Snowstorm in the Jungle," explored the frightening world of cocaine trafficking. In the mid980s "Cousteau/Mississippi: The Reluctant Ally" received an Emmy award for outstanding informational special. In all, Cousteau's television programs have earned more than 40 Emmy nominations.
In addition to his television programs, Cousteau continued to produce new inventions. The Sea Spider, a many-armed diagnostic device, was developed to analyze the biochemistry of the ocean's surface. In 1980, Cousteau and his team began work on the Turbosail, which uses high-tech wind sails to cut fuel consumption in large, ocean-going vessels. In spring of 1985, he launched a new wind ship, the Alcyone, which was outfitted with two 33-foot-high Turbosails.
In honor of his achievements, Cousteau received the Grand Croix dans l'Ordre National du Mérite from the French government in 1985. That same year, he also received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. In November of 1987, he was inducted into the Television Academy's Hall of Fame and later received the founder's award from the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1988, the National Geographic Society honored him with its Centennial Award for "special contributions to mankind throughout the years."
While some critics challenged his scientific credentials, Cousteau never claimed "expert" status in any discipline. His talents appeared as poetic as scientific; his films and bookshich include the eight-volume Undersea Discovery series and the 21-volume Ocean World encyclopedia seriesave a lyrical quality that conveys the captain's great love of nature. This optimism was tempered by his concerns about the environment. He emphatically demonstrated, perhaps to a greater degree than any of his contemporaries, how the quality of both the land and sea is deteriorating and how such environmental destruction is irreversible.
Cousteau continued to speak publicly about environmental issues until he was well into his eighties, although he had given up diving in cold water. In the years before his death, he had been planning for the construction of the Calypso 2 to replace the original Calypso, which had sunk in a Singapore shipyard in 1994. The $20 million vessel was to be powered by solar energy and include equipment for a television studio, marine laboratory, and satellite transmission facility. The oceanographer died of a heart attack in 1997, at his home in Paris, after suffering from a respiratory ailment. He was 87.