Jacques-Yves was born in Saint-Andre-de-Dubzac, France, to Daniel and Elizabeth Cousteau on June 11, 1910. Cousteau always loved the water and in his early teens, he became interested in machines. At the age of 11, Cousteau built a model crane and at 13, he built a battery-operated car. Also in his early teens, Cousteau became fascinated with films. He saved his money and bought a home movie camera.
In high school, Cousteau became bored with school and began to cause trouble. As a result, his parents sent him to a strict boarding school. Cousteau excelled in this new environment and upon graduation, he entered the Ecole Navale (Naval Academy) in Brest. In 1933, Cousteau joined the French Navy as a gunnery officer. It was during this time that he began his underwater explorations and began working on a breathing machine for longer dives.
In 1937, Cousteau married Simone Melchoir, and they had two sons, Jean-Michel and Phillipe. Two years after their marriage, Cousteau fought for the French in World War II. He spent time as a spy and was awarded several medals. During the war, Cousteau still found time to continue his underwater work. In 1943, he and French engineer Emile Gagnan perfected the aqualung, which allowed a diver to stay underwater for several hours. Divers used the aqualung to located and remove enemy mines after World War II.
Cousteau was named a capitaine de corvette of the French navy in 1948, and two years later he became president of the French Oceanographic Campaigns. That same year, Cousteau purchased the ship Calypso to further his explorations. To finance his trips and increase public awareness of his undersea investigations, Cousteau produced numerous films and published many books. His films include The Silent World (1956) and World Without Sun (1966). Both won Academy Awards for best documentary. His books include The Living Sea (1963), Dolphins (1975), and Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World (1985).
Because of his many projects, Cousteau retired from the French navy. In 1957, he became director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, founded the Underseas Research Group at Toulon, and headed the Conshelf Saturation Dive Program. The Conshelf program was an experiment in which men lived and worked underwater for extended periods of time.
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. Cousteau was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1985 and in 1989, he was honored by France with membership in the French Academy.
On January 11, 1996 the Calypso sank in Singapore harbor. In his last years, Cousteau was involved in a legal battle with his son, Jean-Michael over the use of the Cousteau name. Cousteau died on June 25, 1997.