Born in Melbourne, Australia on December 20, 1920, Ted Eldred would later become known as a pioneer of scuba diving after his invention of the “Porpoise”, the first commercially successful single-hose regulator.
Growing up by the sea in Sorrento, Melbourne, Ted spent a lot of time snorkelling in his deep-blue, open backyard. After a huge storm sunk many of the boats that had previously rested in the harbours along the coast, he helped the local garage proprietor to salvage the wrecks off the bottom of the sea – he did this by freediving ill-equipped down to attach winch ropes to the sunken ships so they could be dragged up. This practice became increasingly difficult and dangerous for the boy as the summer season changed to winter and brought colder waters, stronger currents, and decreased visibility.
To counter this, Ted developed personal techniques that helped him to survive in these harsh conditions – one was filling the space between the glass and eyes with fresh water to prevent mask squeeze. For the cold water he would wear close-fitting woollen clothing and worked on techniques to relax muscles and enabled the maximum workload to be taken on with minimum effort.
Following his love of engineering, after graduating from school in the mid 1930s, he was in charge of an extensive tool room engaged in both experimental and production activities for the Armed Forces during the Second World War.
By 1946, Ted had his first oxygen rebreather built. During the period from 1945 to 1947, he became involved in designing two rebreathers and was involved in risky testing trials – which he carried out with his friends on weekends. And with great risks came greater consequences, and little did they know at the time that oxygen rebreathers could be fatal below 9 metres: The increased pressure turns oxygen poisonous.
One diver passed out having failed to purge the system of air, which resulted in anoxia (an absence or deficiency of oxygen). Because of this, Ted directed his efforts to developing an open-circuit compressed air breathing apparatus.
After spending time with the Royal Australian Navy, and gaining access to Royal Navy medical files, Ted was able to enhance his knowledge of respiratory requirements for underwater application. He developed a scuba regulator system by using one hose from the regulator mounted on the cylinder feeding the diver with his compressed air. Taking several years to perfect, and after many changes, the “Porpoise” was ready to take on the world.
Ted started the Breathing Appliance Company in Melbourne, and this allowed him to mass-produce the new dive gear. Following this, the Royal Australian Navy adopted the Porpoise for their divers, the revolutionary units making the then-current helmet gear almost obsolete. With this success, Ted and his friends set up Australia’s first scuba school at the Melbourne City Baths in 1953. The classes were conducted two nights each week, and staff was trained and students were lectured on how to use and service both air and oxygen equipment.
In 1954-55 diving activity in Australia became much more popular, clubs were formed and local manufacturers started to copy the Porpoise single-hose design. Ted’s company outperformed the other overseas manufacturers – giants like Siebe Gorman, Draeger and Scott – and between 1952 and 1975 there were over 12,000 Porpoises manufactured.
To this day, Ted’s single-hose regulator concept is still in use. Ahead of his time, and a pioneer of the diving industry in many ways, Ted sadly passed away in 2005. But his mark on the world remains, in the stress-cleansing addiction that is scuba diving.