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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century France

Discussion in 'History of Diving Gear' started by David Wilson, Dec 5, 2018.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    As for the United Service Agency itself, little survives to document the company's history, except perhaps for the following invoice:
    839_001.jpg
    Note the list of United Service Agency products at the top right. Let's start with the masks and snorkels.
    1943robaudy-jpg-503776-jpg.505714.jpg
    In his 1947 book La Chasse sous-marine (below), Robert Devaux declares himself to be a great admirer of Kamarenko and Wilen's patented "breathing apparatus for swimmers" when it comes to market with the moniker "Le Respirator":
    Le_Respirator.jpg

    The mask still excludes the nose, but not for long. Here are two images of "Le Masque Américain":
    s-l1600a.jpg
    s-l1600b.jpg
    This model has little to distinguish it from any other oval diving mask of the 1950s. Plenty of France's underwater hunting pioneers chose to copy from one another when faced with the task of creating a full range of underwater hunting products to charm the public and earn their living in the austere post-war world of work.
     
    АлександрД likes this.
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    During my research on the United Service Agency, I chanced upon two diving masks with attached breathing tubes which made the leap from patent prototype to marketed product. The first resembles Wilen's US design patent 138,286:
    usd138286-drawings-page-1-png.506228.png
    Masque Total Américain Snorkel-Mask
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    s-l1600b.jpg
    Like the Masque Américain diving mask in the world of early oval diving masks, the Masque Total Américain snorkel-mask resembled many other models in the world of early snorkel-masks.
     
    АлександрД likes this.
  3. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
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    David
    As always a great informative post …

    Alexander Kramarenko has been recognized in the US as the father of the spring powered spear gun -- which in his right hand in the picture

    Charles H. Wilen, is a man of mystery-- was he English, American or French with an Anglican name ?

    In my 3 part article in the Historical Diver which I researched and published almost 30 years ago he was given credit for the full for adjustable fin.

    In the US adjustable fins were never considered "professional' fins. I suspect because of the predominance of Churchills and later the Duck Feet which were all locally manufactured.

    I recall teaching in the 1950s an warning the students to avoid adjustable fins. A section of the training classes was "how to adjust full foot fins." which was accomplished by applying copious amounts of the recently introduced wet suit strips and taping the strips to the to the heel section of the fin reducing size of the foot pocket .

    This allowed many of us who had legs as big as fence post and as hard as steel to wear the X large Duck Feet when our correct size was large.

    Oh the memories of out youth !

    Sam Miller, III
     
  4. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    These two United Service Agency masks may seem a little lacklustre to modern eyes because they look so typical of the vintage age of diving equipment. Those contemplating an underwater hunt in the Mediterranean between the late 1940s and the early 1960s might have viewed these now ordinary-looking products quite differently as fascinating novelties.

    But let's move swiftly on to what I would call the most spectacular product in the United Service Agency's diving mask range.:acclaim:

    Super Aquascope snorkel-mask
    Le_Super_Aquascope.png
    The image is from the second 1954 issue of the French diving magazine L'Aventure Sous-Marine. The company itself describes this mask as a "nouveauté sensationnelle", a sensational innovation and it's hard to argue that this object is bound to provoke an immediate reaction, whether positive or negative. As the vintage double-hose model in the world of snorkel-masks, I deemed the "Super Aquascope" to be unique. But I was wrong...:(

    Because here is the Nemrod "Haiti PS/2069", made in Spain around the same time:
    50663822_1501227910010853_565979357063938048_n.jpg
    51069962_1501227983344179_7258180557677264896_n.jpg
    I am grateful for the two images above to the excellent Nemrod Museum at Nemrod Museum and more particularly for the speed and expertise of response to enquiries about the history of Nemrod diving equipment. I am equally grateful to the Musée Dumas at http://museedumas.fr/, whose collection of "livres & documents" includes the advertisement from the 1954 issue of France's Skin Diver equivalent L'Aventure Sous-Marine. Note that the "Super Aquascope" bears a close, though not exact, resemblance to the Spanish "Haiti". I wonder whether any other diving equipment companies of the 1950s contemplated adding a similar snorkel-mask to their product range.

    I'll leave matters there for today and review the United Service Agency's range of fins in a few days' time.
     
    jale and АлександрД like this.
  5. dmaziuk

    dmaziuk Regular of the Pub

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    In that case, TADA! in case you haven't seen this thing yet: https://www.swimoutlet.com/p/ameo-powerbreather-lap-snorkel-8148117/?color=51928

    (Not to derail the thread, but I happened to see this recently and am still... impressed. Perhaps others would like to see it too. :D
     
    David Wilson likes this.
  6. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
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    David and the gang
    We in SoCal rejected the snorkel mask and even gave them a not so complementary name.
    Which of course in todays world of pollical correctness I dare not post -- but it related to a country in Europe near Germany and Russia

    it was a "???? rebreather"

    SDM
     
    David Wilson likes this.
  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    Thanks to all and to Sam in particular for his insights and memories. I don't have an answer to the identity of Charles Henry Wilen. I suspect he was an American who either lived or vacationed on the Mediterranean coast before he teamed up with Alexandre Kramarenko, patented inventions back home in the USA and started up the United Service Agency in Nice. Talking about the latter, he was clearly a proud American who named the spearguns, masks and fins after his home country and gave his business a name abbreviating to "USA".:)

    I promised a posting about United Service Agency fins, so here we go. Let's take a look first at Wilen's fin patent drawings:
    US2423571-drawings-page-1.png
    US2423571-drawings-page-2.png
    US2423571-drawings-page-3.png
    US2423571-drawings-page-4.png
    In his excellent Historical Diver fin history series, Sam refers to Charles H. Wilen's "patent #2,423,571 on July 8, 1947 for 'Swimming Tails' which were distributed in the U.S. by DESCO. The most notable feature of 'Swimming Tails' was the way the fin and heel straps were attached. Swimming Tails had a normal foot pocket but the straps were like those of a Roman sandal. The foot pocket extended up over the heel where it joined with the heel . The heel strap was attached to the fin by a buckle, making the Swimmming Tails the second fully adjustable fin. Since the replaceable strap configuration was easy to produce and allowed universality of size, it was readily adaptable to the swimming pool variety of fins. Consequently, divers unanimously shunned the use of any type of fin with adjustable straps for serious diving activity. It took the diving world almost twenty years to overcome this stigma." The rest of Sam's "A Short History of Fins Part 2" can be read after accessing http://aquaticcommons.org/14991/1/Historical_Diver_4_1995.pdf and turning to pages 12-13 in the journal issue.

    By the way, here is a picture of Desco "Swimtails" from the Desco History website :
    SwimTailspasteup.jpg
    As you can see, Wilen's forked-blade and sandal-heel fin features survived the transition between drawing board and product release. If you want to view more Desco-related imagery, I highly recommend the pages at | DESCO Diving Equipment and Supply Company Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
     
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  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    On to the United Service Agency fins. Just two models and no real surprises here.

    Palmes américaines fins
    2015751.JPG
    1391487341_a.jpg
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    s-l16001a.jpg
    What we have here is a fin with an extended sole covering the heel. There is an adjustable heel strap with twin buckles, a toe opening and the blade is reinforced with side rails and a couple of raised ribs radiating from the toe platform. The "Palmes Américaines" product name appears at the centre of the blade and the size is embossed on the top of the foot pocket.

    My only disappointment is that these fins look less than distinctive relative to the Wilen patent and the Desco "Swimtails" product to which it led. Compare, for example, the adjustable fins also made in Nice for Roland Forjot's Marin brand:
    image-jpg.498845.jpg
    A very similar design, methinks.
     
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  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

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    Next for consideration today is the United Service Agency's other fin, a full-foot model dubbed "Super-Palmes Américaines".

    Super-Palmes Américaines fins
    199422165.jpg
    Once again, let me pay tribute to France's online diving museum website, the Musée Dumas at Mus?e Fr?d?ric Dumas for the image above. It's the only picture I've located so far of this fin. The only surprising feature of this "Super" model is that the blade is just reinforced by its side rails and comes without the radiating ribs of the standard model. Perhaps the resemblance to the Marin full-foot fin would have been too great:
    image-jpg.498852.jpg
    I feel all this is something of an anticlimax after the "wow" factor of Wilen's innovative fin design manufactured by Desco in the United States. Speaking of which, I've just located another catalogue image of the "Swim Tails":
    Swimtails.jpg
    The image brings us a little forward in the identification of Charles Henry Wilen. At least we know now he was an ichthyologist, which I'm sure everybody knows is an expert on fish, living in the French city of Nice.

    That's it for today and for the United Service Agency. My next port of call in a few days' time will be the Kent Rubber Company of Anglet in France.
     
  10. clercinlemousy

    clercinlemousy Angel Fish

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    Location: québec Canada
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    bonjour du Québec, vous mentionnez rolant forjot serait-il frère avec maxine Forjot inventeur d,un fusil harpon! donc ces deux personnages et si il n'y a pas erreur ils auraient mis sur le marché la marque Marin Nice!
     

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