Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Agua. Wai. L’eau. Wasser. Mul. Water.

No matter how you spell it or how you pronounce it, H2O is a wonder: a beautifully simple, simply beautiful element that means nothing less than life.

We drink it. We swim in it. We inhale it with the air we breathe, and exhale it when we sleep, when we talk, when we laugh, when we stand outside on a cold night watching the stars, our breath made visible. We sail on it, ski on it and whitewater raft on it. We are, to a large extent, made of it. Our planet is a shining blue marble in the darkness of space because of it.

Without it, you’re in trouble.

Here, LIFE.com offers a gallery celebrating the most wondrous of all the classic elements a small, humble gesture of gratitude toward dihydrogen monoxide, without which we, and everything we know and love, would simply dry up and blow away.

Swimmer Kathy Flicker spits water in a swimming pool in 1962.

Swimmer Kathy Flicker spits water in a swimming pool in 1962.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Missionary priest Vincent Ferrer (left) and assistant Mahadev (right) splash in water from a new well on a model farm in India in 1968.

Missionary priest Vincent Ferrer (left) and assistant Mahadev (right) splash in water from a new well on a model farm in India in 1968.

Co Rentmeester The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Thirsty young football players drink water from a garden hose in Denver, Colorado, in 1939.

Thirsty young football players drink water from a garden hose in Denver, Colorado, in 1939.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Linda Joy Young bathes in a sink, Pasadena, Calif., in 1951.

Linda Joy Young bathes in a sink, Pasadena, Calif., in 1951.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A girl in a village on Saipan (Marianas Islands) carries a bottle of water in her arms and a baby on her back in 1944.

A girl in a village on Saipan (Marianas Islands) carries a bottle of water in her arms and a baby on her back in 1944.

W. Eugene Smith The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A little girl receiving tests gazes into pool containing baby ducks   an early use of animals as part of medical therapy, 1956.

A little girl receiving tests gazes into pool containing baby ducks —an early use of animals as part of medical therapy, 1956.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A sharecropper's son gets water from a pump on a farm in the Mississippi delta in 1937.

A sharecropper’s son gets water from a pump on a farm in the Mississippi delta in 1937.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A steelworker in Aliquippa, Penn., washes up at an outdoor pump in 1936.

A steelworker in Aliquippa, Penn., washes up at an outdoor pump in 1936.

Alfred Eisenstaedt The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A Bald Eagle's bath in 1949 California.

A Bald Eagle’s bath in California, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A soldier drives a Jeep out of the water in 1946.

A soldier drives a Jeep out of the water in 1946.

Thomas D. McAvoy The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Rehearsal for an underwater wedding, San Marcos, Texas, 1954.

Rehearsal for an underwater wedding, San Marcos, Texas, 1954.

John Dominis The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Water-proofing, 1948.

Water-proofing, 1948.

Bernard Hoffman The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Writing underwater with a pen, 1948.

Writing underwater with a pen, 1948.

Ralph Morse The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Women demonstrate the Porpoise Diving Fin, a streamlined 2-inch thick mahogany plank at the end of a tow rope, 1948.

Women demonstrate the Porpoise Diving Fin, a streamlined 2-inch thick mahogany plank at the end of a tow rope, 1948.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Kathy Flicker dives at Princeton University's Dillon Gym pool in 1962.

Kathy Flicker dives at Princeton University’s Dillon Gym pool in 1962.

George Silk The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A polar bear seen underwater at a London zoo in 1967.

A polar bear seen underwater at a London zoo in 1967.

Terence Spencer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Underwater ballet, 1945.

Underwater ballet, 1945.

Walter Sanders The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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