Christian J. Lambertsen

Christian James Lambertsen

Dr. Lambertsen, U.S. Army in 1942
Born (1917-05-15)May 15, 1917
Westfield, New Jersey
Died February 11, 2011(2011-02-11) (aged 93)
Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
Residence Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
Nationality United States United States of America
Fields Aerospace medicine, Undersea medicine, Diving medicine, Hyperbaric medicine, Physiology, and Engineering.
Institutions Institute for Environmental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Alma mater - Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey – B.S. (1939)
- University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – M.D. (1943)
Doctoral students J.M. Clark, J.N. Feld, R.E. Peterson, J.M. Collins, S. Kronheim, M.L Gernhardt, L.H. Fenton
Known for Research in tolerance and toxicity of respiratory gasses and development of diving procedures and equipment.
Notes above from the Dr. Lambertsen's CV dated May 2008.

Christian James Lambertsen (May 15, 1917 – February 11, 2011) was an American environmental medicine and diving medicine specialist who was principally responsible for developing the United States Navy frogmen's rebreathers in the early 1940s for underwater warfare. Lambertsen designed a series of rebreathers in 1940 (patent filing date: 16 Dec 1940) and in 1944 (patent issue date: 2 May 1944)[1] and first called his invention breathing apparatus. Later, after the war, he called it Laru (portmanteau for Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit) and finally, in 1952, he changed his invention's name again to SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus).[2] Although diving regulator technology was invented by Émile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1943 and wasn't originally related to rebreathers, the current use of the word SCUBA is largely attributed to Gagnan's and Cousteau's invention. The US Navy considers Lambertsen to be "the father of the Frogmen".[3][4]


Lambertsen was born in Westfield, New Jersey and attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, graduating in 1939 with a bachelor of science degree.[5] He graduated from medical school at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1943.

Lambertsen was awarded Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Northwestern University in 1977.

Army career

Major Lambertsen served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1944 to 1946. He invented the first Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) and demonstrated it to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) (after already being rejected by the U.S. Navy) in a pool at a hotel in Washington D.C.[6] OSS not only bought into the concept, they hired Major Labertsen to lead the program and build-up the dive element of their maritime unit.[6] He was vital in establishing the first cadres of U.S. military operational combat swimmers during late World War II. The OSS was also the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the maritime element still exists inside their Special Activities Division.[7]

His responsibilities included training and developing methods of combining self-contained diving and swimmer delivery including the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit for the OSS "Operational Swimmer Group".[3][4] Following World War II, he trained U.S. forces in methods for submerged operations, including composite fleet submarine / operational swimmers activity.

Civilian career

From 1946 to 1953 Lambertsen served as an instructor to Professor of Pharmacology with the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine though he did spend a year as a Visiting Research Associate Professor from 1951 to 1952 for the Department of Physiology at University College London, England. Lambertsen spent the 1950s concentrating on national research needs in undersea medicine (see National Service Activities below). He again took an appointment as Professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1962. He was also named Professor of Medicine in 1972 and Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1976. Each of these appointments were held until 1987. In 1985, he became Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lambertsen was the founder and director of The Environmental Biomedical Stress Data Center[8] at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The University of Pennsylvania's annual Christian J. Lambertsen Honorary Lecture is named for him. On May 31, 2007 the guest speaker was Professor Marc Feldmann, head of Imperial College's Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology who is recognised for his discovery of anti-TNF treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, which has led to a new therapy used by more than a million patients. Dr. Lambertsen was in attendance.

Contributions to environmental medicine

Predictive Studies Series

Dr. Lambertsen's "Predictive Studies Series", spanning from 1969 with TEKTITE I to 1997, researched many aspects of humans in extreme environments.[9]


University and National Civilian Awards and Honors

Military Service and Related Awards

  • 1945 Legion of Merit, U.S. Army
  • 1945 Major General William J. Donovan, U.S.A., Director, Office of Strategic Services
  • 1945 Lt. Colonel H. Q. A. Reeves, British Army
  • 1945 Lt. Commander Derek A. Lee, R.N.V.R., Burma
  • 1945 Colonel Sylvester C. Missal, M.C., U.S.A., Chief Surgeon, Office of Strategic Services
  • 1945 Commander H. G. A. Wooley, D.S.C., R.N., Director, Maritime Unit, Office of Strategic Services
  • 1946 Presidential Unit Citation, O.S.S. Unit 101, Burma, Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • 1946 U.S. Army Commendation Ribbon, Citation from Major General Norman Kirk, M.C., Surgeon General, U.S. Army
  • 1946 Admiral J. F. Farley, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
  • 1946 Colonel H. W. Doan, M.C., Executive Officer, Surgeon General’s Office, U.S. Army
  • 1947 Colonel George W. Read Jr., President, U.S. Army Ground Forces, Board No. 2
  • 1948 General Jacob L. Devers, U.S.A. Commanding General, U.S. Army Ground Forces
  • 1969 Meritorious Civilian Service Award, Secretary of the Navy
  • 1969 Military Oceanography Award, Secretary of the Navy
  • 1972 Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award
  • 1972 Secretary of the Navy Certificate of Commendation for Advisory Service, Committee on Undersea Warfare, National Academy of Sciences
  • 1976 Distinguished Public Service Award, United States Coast Guard
  • 1978 Certificate of Commendation for Outstanding Service on Secretary of the Navy Oceanographic Advisory Committee
  • 1995 British Embassy Citation
  • 1995 U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School Award: Lifetime Achievement
  • 1996 U.S. Special Forces Green Beret Award
  • 2001 U.S. Special Operations Command Medal
  • 2005 US Chief of Naval Operations Citation

National Service Activities


Refereed journals


  • 1944 US 2348074  "Breathing Apparatus." for Use Under Water
  • 1944 US 2362643  "Breathing Apparatus." for Use Under Water
  • 1947 US 2418473  "Hood for Oxygen Therapy."
  • 1948 US 2456130  "Breathing Apparatus." for Use Under Water
  • 1952 US 2586670  "Selective Gas Absorber." for Breathing Apparatus
  • 1957 US 2781043  "Oxygen Admission Valve." for Oxygen Rebreathing Apparatus
  • 1959 US 2871854  "Breathing Apparatus." for use Under Water
  • 1974 US 3794021  "Dual Mode Mixed Gas Breathing Apparatus."
  • 1974 US 3851487  "Buoyant Underwater Structures." for Underwater Work and Oil Trapping
  • 1989 US 4807706  "Breathable Fire Extinguishing Gas Mixtures."

See also


  1. Lambertsen's patent in Google Patents
  2. See Lambertsen's homage by the website
  3. 1 2 Vann RD (2004). "Lambertsen and O2: beginnings of operational physiology". Undersea Hyperb Med. 31 (1): 21–31. PMID 15233157. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  4. 1 2 Butler FK (2004). "Closed-circuit oxygen diving in the U.S. Navy". Undersea Hyperb Med. 31 (1): 3–20. PMID 15233156. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  5. Hevesi, Dennis. "Christian Lambertsen, Inventor of Scuba Precursor, Dies at 93", The New York Times, February 25, 2011. Accessed March 5, 2011. "Christian James Lambertsen was born in Westfield, N.J., on May 17, 1917, one of four children of Chris and Ellen Lambertsen."
  6. 1 2 Shapiro, T. Rees (February 19, 2011). "Christian J. Lambertsen, OSS officer who created early scuba device, dies at 93". The Washington Post.
  8. The Environmental Biomedical Stress Data Center. "The Environmental Biomedical Stress Data Center". Retrieved 2008-05-29.
  9. Clark JM (2004). "The Predictive Studies Series: Correlation of physiologic responses to extreme environmental stresses". Undersea Hyperb Med. 31 (1): 33–51. PMID 15233158. Retrieved 2008-05-09.

External links

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