Brief History of DESCO
Known to commercial divers throughout the world DESCO was first
organized in 1937 as a Wisconsin corporation under the name of Diving
Equipment and Salvage Co. Its organization was the result of several
events which occurred during the preceding years.
During the early 1930's, a
Milwaukee diver, Max Gene Nohl, had received national publicity as the
result of his salvage operations on a sunken steamship, the "John
Dwight." This brought him to the attention of a Hollywood producer, Col.
John D. Craig, who was interested in the possible salvage of the
torpedoed Cunard liner, the "Lusitania," which lay in 312 feet off water
of the Irish coast
At that time, no equipment or
reliable techniques were available for diving operations at such a
depth, and it was obvious that such a project would require both
physiological experimentation and an advance in diving equipment design.
Although no actual attempt was ever made to salvage the Lusitania, its
challenge caused Nohl to join forces with two other Milwaukeeans. The
first was Jack Browne who was also a diver. The second was Edgar End,
M.D. of the Marquette University School of Medicine who was a pioneer in
the new science of hyper baric physiology and medicine.
Browne and Nohl worked together
on the design of a new type of lightweight, self-contained diving suit.
At the same time they worked with Dr. End to explore the promising
possibility of preventing nitrogen narcosis by having the diver breathe
a mixture of helium and oxygen rather than air.
The first result of this collaboration was the incorporation of DESCO as
the manufacturer of the newly designed diving equipment. The new
corporation was largely financed by Mr. Norman Kuehn, a Milwaukee
businessman. Browne and Nohl became its first full-time employees.
Browne was also one of its shareholders. The second result was that, On
December 1, 1937 in the cold waters of Lake Michigan, Max Nohl succeeded
in diving to a depth of 420 feet, thereby breaking a depth record which
had been held by a U.S. Navy diver Frank Crilley, since 1915. Nohl
accomplished this feat using DESCO's new diving equipment and breathing
a heliox mixture prescribed by Dr. End.
World War II brought large Navy
contracts for diving equipment to DESCO. They included not only
conventional hard-hat gear, but also the design, development and
manufacture of an oxygen rebreather, known as the "B Lung." This, for
the first time, permitted Navy divers to swim freely under the surface,
in the manner of SCUBA divers today, but without producing bubbles which
might disclose their position. By V-J Day, DESCO was producing more
diving equipment than any other company in the world.
DESCO by then had its own
pressurized wet tank, and on April 27, 1945, Jack Browne used this tank
to "dive" to still a new record depth of 550 feet of sea water. As in
the case of Nohl's earlier dive, he breathed a heliox mixture under the
supervision of Dr. End. Both dives were milestones in the development of
modern techniques of mixed-gas diving.
In 1946, Norman Kuehn and Jack
Browne sold the company to another Milwaukee businessman, Alfred Dorst.
Under Dorst, the company continued to design and manufacture U.S. Navy
and commercial diving equipment but also broadened its product line to
include a variety of sporting goods, including water skis, aquaplanes,
swim-fins, spear-guns, and simplified oxygen rebreathers, such as the "A
Lung," intended for use by sports divers. At about this time also the
company changed its name to "Diving Equipment and Supply Co., Inc."
After the Korean War, which again brought an increase in U.S. Navy
contracts and orders, the ownership changed hands several times, and
during this period it went out of the sporting goods business. Ever
since, it has concentrated solely, as it did at the start, on the design
and manufacture of commercial and U.S. Navy diving equipment.
In 1960, Max Nohl and his wife
were tragically killed in an automobile accident.
In May 1966, DESCO was purchased by Tom and Marilyn Fifield. In 1968 it
moved to its present address at 240 North Milwaukee Street in Milwaukee.
Mr. Fifield was responsible in the 1960's for the design and development
of the DESCO Diving Hat which remains a standard piece of modern
equipment for diving with air in relatively shallow water where mixed
gases are not needed. Also the company, in addition to its full line of
conventional diving equipment, has continued to improve and manufacture
its famous DESCO Full-Face Mask which originated in the early design
efforts of Jack Browne and Max Nohl. This mask has probably been used in
more total hours of commercial diving than any other piece of equipment
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