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The Father of SCUBA and the Underwater City

July 8, 2018


What Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture, what Les Paul is to the electric guitar and modern recording, what Jim Lovell and Deke Slayton are to space flight, what Buddy Melges is to sailing, what Orson Welles is to cinema, what John B Murphy is to surgery, what the Ringling Brothers are to the circus, what Ed Gein is to deviant behavior, what General Douglas MacArthur is to General Douglas MacArthur (if you haven't guessed, all Wisconsinites)…….Max Nohl is to deep sea diving and the emergence of SCUBA. Salvage diver, adventurer, MIT grad, Milwaukee born and raised Max Gene Nohl and a close knit team at DESCO (a Milwaukee based underwater diving equipment manufacturing company he co-founded) created the first self contained underwater breathing apparatus(SCUBA) in the form of a lightweight heliox diving suit fitted with tanks and a  sealed wide view diving helmet. In the winter of 1937, he tested the suit using a newly created helium/oxygen breathing mixture in a record breaking 420 foot dive to the bottom of Lake Michigan. The helium/oxygen mixture idea was developed with fellow DESCO employee Dr. Edgar End of the Marquette School of Medicine. In one bold move, the diving world took a quantum leap forward and Milwaukee was ground zero. "The Deepest Dive" made international news and it's young diver was an international celebrity. This was not the first dive using his new equipment. The previous summer had brought him to the pyramids of Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.

For years, fishermen and pleasure boaters had reported seeing unusual underwater structures in Rock Lake. The structures were first described as "pyramidal" in newspaper articles during a wave of pyramid mania that swept the Badger State in the early 1900’s.  Max Nohl could not resist. He made a series of test dives in the late summer. Underwater conditions at Rock Lake were difficult - at times murky, suddenly clear, then - in the blink of an eye - black with silt. Toward the end of his last dive, he came across a tall pyramid-like structure made of densely fitted small rocks. To the eye of this trained engineer, it had the hallmarks of being man made. Max wanted to return to the lake and dive more extensively, but it wasn't to be. Years later he and his wife died in a horrific car accident, a high speed head on crash that also took the life of soul singer Jesse Belvin. The undersea structures of Rock Lake remain a mystery and are the subject of ongoing research.  Some believe them to be the remains of a