The History of Jaques Cousteau for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are swimming deep in the ocean. You look up and see the sunlight shimmering through the surface far above you. The water is dark and blue and schools of silvery fish swim all around you. You turn and see a large manta ray glide gracefully by. Below you is the glittering sand and red and blue coral; and a family of sea turtles swimming by on their way toward the beach. You take a deep breath from your regulator, the device used to breath underwater. On your back is an oxygen tank and covering your eyes is a scuba mask. Your feet have fins and you wear a wetsuit to keep your body warm. All of these incredible inventions work together to make you like a fish. You kick your fins and glide further through the water, admiring the underwater forest of kelp, coral and fish that thrive in this beautiful ocean habitat. 

Jacques (pronounced “Zhock”) Cousteau who had a deep love for the sea and without his inventions and passion for ocean life, you would not be able to breathe like a fish underwater. 

Jacques was born on June 11, 1910 in the town of Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France. At age 4 Jacque learned how to swim and this began his great love for the ocean. Jacque didn’t always do the best in school, at times he had trouble learning, but he was very curious. His parents gave him a camera and he took it apart and put it back together again, because he was very interested in how it worked. He also liked to make films with his camera. In school, because Jacque wasn’t doing very well, his parents sent him to a different school. There Jacque ended up doing better as he put more effort into his school work.

Jacques spent one summer in a camp in Vermont, a state in the United States. He said that one of the camp leaders didn’t like him very much, so he made Jacques clean tree branches and other debris off the bottom of the lake. So Jacques spent many hours that summer diving to the bottom of that lake. This is how he learned to dive. 

Jacque loved the water and swimming, but he also wanted to be a pilot for the French Navy. In 1930 Jacque joined the French Naval Academy and graduated as a gunnery officer. As part of the Navy’s information service, he travelled around and took his camera with him. He used it to take pictures of exotic locations in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans. The Navy also taught him self-discipline and how to be a sailor, someone who understands the ocean and can drive a boat on it.

One night in 1933 while in the Navy, Jacque borrowed his father’s sports car to drive to a wedding. Along the way his headlights went out and he crashed into another car, resulting in a very dangerous accident. Jacques survived, but both of his arms were broken ending his chances of becoming a pilot. In order to get his arms’ strength back, Jacque began swimming again in the Mediterranean Sea. Once when he was swimming in the ocean a friend gave him a pair of goggles to try out. He used the goggles and looked under the water. He was amazed at what he saw and wanted to be able to dive deeper and explore further. Even though he wouldn’t be able to become a pilot, he found a new passion, exploring the ocean. Sometimes life doesn’t always turn out how we plan, so we need to be resilient, which means to bounce back and setting new goals as our circumstances change. 

In 1937 Jacque met his first wife, Simone Melchior, and later had two sons, Jean-Michel and Phillipe. Not long after this, Germany went to war with other countries in Europe, leading to World War 2. Soon the city of Paris, France fell to the German Army and Jacques and his family fled to the small town of Megreve. During this time, Jacques wanted to find a way to be able to dive deeper in the ocean and breath underwater. In 1943 he met an inventor named Emile Gagnan, a French engineer, and together they experimented with ways to breath underwater. At this time Gagnan and Jacques invented better snorkel hoses, bodysuits and breathing devices. They called their first breathing device an aqua-lung. It used an oxygen tank and changed the pressure of the water before it entered the divers mouth, so the diver could breathe underwater. 

Not only did Jacques want to breathe underwater, he wanted to make a movie about it so he could share it with his friends. So he also designed a waterproof camera. With his new inventions, Jacques made his first two movies, also called documentaries, called “18 Meters Deep” and “Shipwrecks.” 

At this time, the world was still at war, so Jacques joined the French Resistance to continue to fight Germany and Italy to leave their country. Jacques and others spied on the Italian Army and let the Allies know where they were going from and to. Later he was given an award for his service. 

When the war was over, Jacques used his diving skills and new inventions to clear mines and wrecked ships from under the water along the coast of France. At this time, he also kept improving his equipment and making underwater films. 

To humans, most of the undersea world had yet to be explored. Jacque understood this and wanted to discover it first. Instead of astronauts, who explore space, Jacque called his divers “acquanots.” 

In 1948, Jacques and several other divers gathered all their equipment and started off on an adventure to find a long lost shipwreck. The ancient Roman ship was called the Mahdia. The ship had been carrying many works of Greek art when it ran into a storm and sunk off the coast of Tunisia in 80 B.C. Together with his team, Jacques made many dives down to the shipwreck, gathered works of art and made a movie of their adventures. This was the start of what became known as underwater archeology.

In 1950, an Irish millionaire named Thomas Loel Guinness was interested in Jacque’s adventures. He bought a ship and let Jacques rent it for 1 French dollar a year. Jacques and his team turned the ship into a research and diving boat and named it Calypso. They had a ship but very little money for fuel or other costs for their adventures. Jacque’s wife, Simone, believed in what he was doing, so she offered to sell all of her expensive jewelry to fund their first mission.  

Besides his wife’s jewelry, Jacques knew in order to pay for his adventures, he would have to make even more money. He knew getting the world interested in what he was doing would be the key to doing it. He published a book called The Silent World. It was very successful and he used the money from it to pay for his next expedition to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

In 1954, Jacques and his crew explored the waters off the coast of Abu Dhabi for a British oil company. They used the film from this trip to make a movie called The Silent World, which went on to win the best movie award at the Cannes Film Festival. This made Jacques even more famous. Around this time he and his crew invented what they called “the diving saucer,” which was a small submarine they could use to go even deeper into the ocean.

In 1966, Jacques saw that TV was becoming very popular, so he went to the American TV companies and convinced them to pay him for a TV show about his adventures called “The World of Jacques Cousteau.” Later he created another show called “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” Millions of people all over the world watched Jacques explain the ocean from the Calypso. He was recognized for his French accent and red cap. 

During his early explorations, Jacque’s adventures had been paid for by oil companies drilling offshore. Over time, and with the help of his son, Phillipe, Jacques began to recognize that human activity such as offshore drilling was hurting many parts of the ocean and ocean life. In 1973 he founded the Cousteau Society and refocused his movies and books on what could be done to stop the damage being done to the ocean. Before long the society had 300,000 members worldwide. His society’s efforts did much to inform others what could be done in order to take better care of our planet.

In 1972, Jacques and his team packed up and left port for one of his greatest adventures. He would sail the Calypso to Antarctica and explore one of the last untouched oceans in the world. This was also made into a movie called Cousteau in the Antarctic

Jacque went on to make more movies and write more books. In 1985 he won the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1990 his wife passed away. He married Francine Triplet and with her had two more children. Then in 1997 in Paris, Jacque passed away himself.  

Jacques was very successful in life, but his life wasn’t always easy. When he was young he broke his arms and lost his dream of becoming a pilot, but he made the best of it and found a new world to explore instead. 

Over the years he made more than 120 TV movies and 50 books. He shared his love for the sea with the world through his movies and as a result of his passion many came to appreciate the amazing wonders below the surface of the ocean.

Jacques once said “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.” And “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”

Like Jacque, you can be curious about the world around you. Because there was no way to explore the underwater world, that didn’t stop Jacques from exploring it. He invented a way to breathe underwater! It’s fun to dream about great adventures, but real adventures take learning and work and planning. If there’s a dream you have, be sure to take the time to plan out what you can do to achieve it. They may mean reading more about it in a book or on the Internet, or trying a little harder in school so you have the skills to reach that dream. Like Jacques, you can learn to see the world as a wondrous place. When you’re curious life is never boring! Find something you’re interested in, check out a book about it, or watch a video. Curiosity keeps life exciting! Remember, there’s no end to the things you can learn and explore in the wondrous world in which we live.