5 Things You Didn't Know About Jacques Cousteau

By Philippe Tailliez, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
By Philippe Tailliez, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

French naval officer, explorer, and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau helped millions of people learn about what goes on under the ocean's surface. How well do you know the man in the wetsuit, who was born on June 11, 1910? Let's take a look at five things you might not have known about the master of the deep.

1. HE ORIGINALLY WANTED TO FLY.

When Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a young man he joined the French navy, but he never had any intention of going underwater as part of his service. Instead, Cousteau planned on becoming a naval aviator, but that dreamed died when Cousteau was in a serious auto accident in 1936. The young pilot borrowed his father's Salmson sports car to attend a wedding and had a horrific crash when the headlights shorted out on a dark road. Cousteau was so severely injured in the accident that it seemed like resuming his pilot's training was impossible.

Cousteau needed a way to rehab and strengthen his broken arms, though, so he took to swimming in the ocean. Later that year, Cousteau made his first underwater swim in goggles, and he realized that he'd found his calling.

2. HE HAD A SECRET FAMILY.

Soon after Cousteau discovered his love of the undersea world, he also declared his love for Simone Melchior. The couple married in 1937, and Simone was never in the shadows of Jacques' life. She went along on expeditions on his ship Calypso, helped him secure financing for his projects, and even sold her family jewels to help buy fuel for the ship. Simone took such good care of Calypso's crew that they nicknamed her "La Bergere," or "the Shepherdess."

Quite a storybook romance, right? You can imagine how surprising it was when, in 1991, Jacques announced that not only did he have a mistress, but an entire secret family. One year after Simone's death from cancer, Cousteau told the world that he had been having a longtime affair with Francine Triplet, who was more than 30 years his junior. Cousteau also announced he had two secret children from the affair. He later married Triplet.

3. HIS SHIP, CALYPSO, WILL EXPLORE THE SEAS AGAIN.

Cousteau's famed ship Calypso got its start as a British minesweeper during World War II, and after the conflict ended she became a ferry in Malta. In 1950 Irish millionaire Thomas Loel Guinness, a descendant of the storied brewing family, bought the ship. Guinness didn't hang onto the ship for long, though. He leased her to Cousteau for a pretty sweet deal: one franc per year.

The ship has had a bit of a rough time since Cousteau made it famous. In January 1996, Calypso was in Singapore when a barge accidentally rammed her. The ship sank and had to be pulled from the water by crane for extensive restoration. Following Cousteau's 1997 death, the two wings of his family fought a bitter battle over the future of the ship. For years, the ship's new owners have worked on restoring it and in 2016 announced that it will explore the seas once again in the future.

In 2016, Francine—Jacques's second wife and president of the Cousteau Society—told The Telegraph that she was, "particularly happy to announce this news after a 20-year fight against adversity and twists of fate ... When the Calypso returns to the Mediterranean, it will be navigable and running on its own engines, as captain Cousteau wished.” 

4. HE BUDDIED UP TO FIDEL CASTRO.

In 1985, Cousteau and his crew ventured to Cuba to research the country's unique system for managing its lobster population. While there, Cousteau received Fidel Castro on his ship for dinner. Castro seemed to take a liking to Cousteau; the dictator allowed the diver to liberate 80 political prisoners. Cousteau and his team also received another unique honor: they became the first non-Cubans to pass through the gate of the U.S. Navy's Guantanamo Bay installation since the Cuban missile crisis 24 years earlier.

5. HE WANTED WATERWORLD TO BECOME A REALITY.

Cousteau may have co-invented the Aqua-Lung and become one of history's most famous divers, but he dreamed of his creation one day becoming a medical reality. In a 1960 interview with TIME, Cousteau predicted that in the future, medical science would advance to the point where men could surgically be given gills that would enable them to live underwater. Cousteau figured if that surgery could be perfected, so could a follow-up procedure that would remove the gills and enable normal life back on land. He told the magazine, "Everything that has been done on the surface will sooner or later be done under water. It will be the conquest of a whole new world."

8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions About Recycling

iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

If you pat yourself on the back for just remembering to separate the recycling or haul that big blue bin to the curb each week, you're not alone. Despite the strides we appear to be making toward eco-consciousness as a country, we have a long way to go in helping the Earth, as evidenced by our complicated relationship with recycling. These facts about the most prevalent of the three Rs will make you pause the next time you throw anything away.

1. The United States's recycling rate is low—really low.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that America recycles about 34.7 percent of the garbage it produces. (The world's top recyclers—Germany, Austria, Wales, and South Korea—report a rate between 52 and 56 percent.) But Mitch Hedlund, founder and Executive Director of the organization Recycle Across America isn't even sure the recycling rate often quoted is accurate because there is so much junk mixed in with actual recyclables.

Recycle Across America is currently working to encourage the use of standardized labels for recycling bins to eliminate the confusion over what actually belongs in these receptacles. "If the U.S. gets the recycling number up to 75 percent, which we believe is completely possible once the confusion (over what to place in the bins) is removed, it will be the CO2 equivalent of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year in the U.S. and it will create 1.5 million permanent new jobs in the U.S. (net)."

2. Proper recycling can result in monetary savings.

Businessman stepping on green squares with recycling symbols
iStock.com/Rawpixel

While Hedlund admits the idea of providing universal labels clearly stating what should be placed in the bins is a simple one, it's making a serious impact on those who have jumped on the bandwagon. "Many schools are seeing dramatic increases in their recycling levels since using the society-wide standardized labels on their recycling bins," she says. "For instance, in the pilot program at Culver City schools in Los Angeles [County], their recycling levels doubled when they started using the standardized labels and the materials they were collecting in their recycling bins were so much less contaminated with garbage." Another story, she says, is that "as a result of a donation from Kiehls (who makes a donation to Recycle Across America each April in the sum of $50,000), all of the schools in the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego County started using the standardized labels. San Diego Unified School District reduced their landfill hauling fees by about $200,000 (net) in the first year."

3. Recent changes from China have severely impacted the recycling industry.

Until 2018, China took 40 percent of the United States's recycled paper, plastic, and metal. But in January of that year, China imposed strict new rules on the levels of contamination (think food or other garbage mixed in with the recyclables) it's willing to accept—standards American cities are largely unable to meet. Because of that, and a lack of suitable destinations closer to home, many cities have been forced to incinerate or stockpile recyclables until they can find a better solution.

4. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the U.S.

The nation recycles less than 10 percent of its plastic, compared to 67 percent for paper materials, 34 percent for metals, and 26 percent for glass. And China's restrictions have especially affected plastic—while exports of scrap plastic to China were valued at more than $300 million in 2015, they amounted to $7.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, down 90 percent from the year before.

5. Clothing can be recycled, but it rarely is.

Clothing at a garage sale
iStock.com/alexeys

Unfortunately, most curbside haulers don't accept textiles, and America has a serious problem with old clothes ending up in the trash. In 2019, the nation is on track to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling—almost double the number from 1999. On the plus side, some cities have set up drop-off points for unwanted clothes, and there are a variety of ways to sell or donate unwanted items. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have also introduced buy-back programs for their items.

6. Aluminum is the world's most-recycled packaging product.

Crushed aluminum cans
iStock.com/hroe

Nearly 70 percent of aluminum cans are recycled internationally, according to Novelis, a leader in rolled aluminum products and recycled aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degrading, meaning it can be reused in a way completely different from what it was in its previous life, or recast into its original form. Not only is aluminum the world's most-recycled product, it's also the most profitable and the most energy-efficient. Using recycled aluminum instead of virgin materials saves about 95% of the energy, compared to 60% for paper and 34% for glass [PDF].

7. That soda can you're drinking from could find its way back to you more quickly than you think.

According to Novelis's research, an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on a grocery store shelf within 60 days [PDF]. That's a seriously speedy turnaround.

8. Scrap recycling is big business.

While the words scrap recycling might have you humming the Sanford & Son theme song, it's far from being a junkyard industry. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2017 U.S. scrap recyclers processed more than 130 million tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, and more—material that was sold back to industrial consumers in the U.S. and around the world, generating close to $18 billion in export sales. All told, scrap recycling was a $117 billion industry in 2017 [PDF].

This list first ran in 2015 and was updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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