PADI History

The PADI Story – Two Friends and an Idea

The world’s largest scuba diving training organization, PADI was dreamed up in 1966 by two scuba instructors and divers who were friends in the state of Illinois, U.S.A.

John Cronin, a scuba equipment salesman for U.S. Divers, and Ralph Erickson, an educator, university water polo coach, champion swimmer, lifeguard and waterman were concerned about the scuba diving industry. They felt that the scuba certification agencies that existed at the time could be improved as they didn’t use state-of-the-art instruction, and made it unnecessarily difficult for people to enter the sport. John and Ralph knew there had to be a better way to support diving instructors and for people to learn to breathe underwater.

In 1966, John brought a bottle of his favorite libation to Ralph’s Illinois apartment in Morton Grove. They decided it was time to start a scuba training organization. John insisted that the word “professional” be in the name of the company. Ralph wanted an “association of diving instructors.” After a few rounds, the acronym PADI was born: Professional Association of Diving Instructors.

Their goal – professional support services, standards and curriculum for diving instructors and give more people a chance to enjoy the underwater world by offering relevant, instructionally valid scuba diving training to create confident scuba divers who dive regularly.

The Underground Office

The initial start-up meetings took place at several restaurants in Morton Grove and Niles, Illinois. In a few months, Cronin finished a portion of the basement in his home on Main Street in Niles to become the headquarters for PADI. He eventually hired his next-door neighbor to be a part time secretary.

A Torched Logo

When they were struggling for a logo design, John mentioned he wanted something classy like the National Geographic look. Years later, in an interview, Ralph said that idea changed the way he was looking at this small two-man operation. At that moment, he could see a big vision for PADI. Ralph was responsible for putting together the first PADI logo – a diver with a torch in a globe. This was inspired by a photograph from Jacque Cousteau’s Silent world where French divers are descending with burning torches in hand. This photo still hangs in the PADI Worldwide global office in California. This logo was later refined into the well-known PADI logo of today.

PADI Grows

In the early years, PADI grew slowly. Ralph had a vision for continuing educational course structure versus the know it all entry level course designed to weed people out and structured off of military training that was dominate at that time. In 1967, PADI introduced its first advanced diver course and first specialty diver programs. By the late 1960s, PADI had 400 members, but it was still a struggling entity.

Cronin went to a huge National Sporting Goods Association show in New York City. While he was there he met with Paul Tzimoulis, who later became the editor of Skin Diver magazine. Paul suggested that PADI put the diver’s picture on the certification card. In 1968, PADI produced the first positive identification certification card with the diver’s photograph. It was a strategic move that helped PADI’s eventual global recognition.

John Cronin had been promoted to Sales Manager at U.S. Divers and had moved the family to Huntington Beach, California. At that time, Ralph continued to consult with staff on expanding PADI’s continuing educations offerings for divers. John pursued his career at U.S. Divers and maintained a board position at PADI along with Ralph and several other PADI members. In 1970, the PADI Office moved to California, USA ad key operational staff began to arrive to run the day to day operations of PADI.

Erickson pursued his career as a water polo coach at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois and was a very active diver and instructor as well. He worked with early training managers at PADI developing standards and courses. In 1972, the PADI Open Water Diver certification was launched as the preferred entry-level rating, with twice as many required open water dives as previous courses.

In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, PADI began creating its own integrated, multimedia student and instructor educational materials for each course. The modular scuba training program development spawned an incredible growth period for PADI and made it unique from other agencies.

In the early to mid-1980’s PADI attracted highly experienced and professionally credentialed top talent in the dive industry with expertise in international business, instructional design, educational systems development, marketing, retail and resort program development. In the late 1980’s, PADI also launched an extensive scientific study in hyperbaric diver table research. The data from this research ultimately developed the Recreational Diver Planner.

John Cronin eventually retired from his CEO position at U.S. Divers/Aqualung and re-entered operations at the PADI organization taking the helm as CEO in 1986. By the late 1980s, PADI was the leading scuba diving training organization in the world. With so many new people introduced to the activity, everyone at PADI felt a responsibility to teach divers about their interactions with the underwater world. Cronin knew PADI had a responsibility to protect the marine environment. John Cronin said:

“We want to feel that our children, their children and generations to come will be able to enjoy the underwater world that has given us so much. There are so many significant problems facing mankind, but as divers this is truly our cause. If scuba divers do not take an active role in preserving the aquatic realm, who will?”

Out of a true concern for the environment, the Project AWARE philosophy was integrated into PADI Diver training courses and eventually the non-profit Project AWARE Foundation was formed.

PADI Today

In 2003, John Cronin passed away. His friend and PADI co-founder, Ralph Erickson, passed away three years later. They proudly carried PADI’s torch for many years before they confidently put it in the hands of today’s generation of PADI Professionals, who continue to introduce the world to scuba diving.

With nearly 450 employees in PADI corporate offices around the world, the PADI organization works hard to be the best partner to its members and is committed to:

  1. Safe and responsible diver acquisition and retention.
  2. Quality member acquisition and retention.
  3. Retail, resort and individual member support and consultation services in business, marketing, education, training, and quality management.
  4. Worldwide alignment in message, products, systems and procedures.
The PADI Worldwide Executive team, led by Dr. Drew Richardson, President and CEO, ensure these promises are met.