Jacques-Yves Cousteau was was born June 11, 1910, in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, a small town near Bordeaux. His father was a lawyer who traveled constantly, and the boy was often on the move. Jacques was a sickly boy, and a trouble maker in high school. He was expelled at for breaking school windows. In 1930, Cousteau entered the French Navy, intending to become an aviator. He was in a car crash at the age of 26, ending his hopes to fly with the Navy, and was transferred to sea duty, where he swam rigorously to strengthen badly weakened arms. He spoke of those events: "Sometimes 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," he wrote. "It happened to me ... on that summer's day, when my eyes were opened to the sea,".
During World War II, Cousteau was involved in espionage work for the French Resistance, and was awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest military award. He had worked during that time with underwater photography, and developed an apparatus that enabled a man to breathe underwater by supplying him with oxygen. He developed the aqua-lung with engineer Emile Gagnon.
A gift from a millionaire in 1950 enabled Coustea to buy the Calypso, a 400 ton former mine-sweeper that he converted into a floating laboratory, complete with the latest equipment. In 1952 Jacques Cousteau took the Calypso to the Red Sea and shot the first ever underwater television footage at a depth of 150 feet. He won top honors at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival with his documentary The Silent World. In 1968, Cousteau was asked to make a TV series. For the next 8 years, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau introduced the public to a world of sharks, whales, dolphins, sunken treasure, and coral reefs. In 1974, Cousteau started the Cousteau Society to protect ocean life. The membership of this non-profit group has grown to include more than 300,000 members worldwide. He authored countless books, including The Living Sea and World Without Sun. A 20-volume encyclopedia, The Ocean World of Jacques CousteauCousteau Odyssey series premiered on PBS. Seven years later, the Cousteau Amazon series premiered on the Turner Broadcasting System. In all, his documentaries have won 40 Emmy nominations. His inventions, besides the aqualung, included a one-person, jet-propelled submarine and helped start the first manned undersea colonies.
Jacques Coustea died June 25, 1997 at the age of 87. He remained active in diving and education activities well into his last years. And after a lifetime of invention, exploration and storytelling, Cousteau said not long before he died that he was proudest of helping to save Alaska, the Antarctic, the Amazon and of helping awaken the awareness of people all over the world. "All these things have been hard won," he said. "And we did it and I'm proud of it."