Underwater Exploration Timeline 1700s to 1800s University of Wisconsin Sea Grant
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     1700s to the 1800s:

The Englishman John Lethbridge develops a one-man completely enclosed diving suit: essentially, a reinforced, leather-covered barrel of air, equipped with a glass porthole for viewing, and two arm holes with watertight sleeves.

Also in 1715, a English inventor named Becker demonstrates his new invention: a full, leather diving suit and large, spherical metal helmet with a window. Three tubes lead from the helmet to the surface, one for exhaled air and the other two for fresh air pumped down by several large bellows. When it was demonstrated, the diver stayed down for an hour, although the depth reached wasn't recorded.

A Frenchman named Freminet produces a crude brass diving helmet with eye holes. Air is supplied by a bellows into a small air reservoir, then pumped down to the diver.

The first submarine (left) used to attack a ship is launched in the United States. Built by David Bushnell, a Yale student, the 7 -foot-long, pear-shaped submarine carried only one crew member and was run by two hand-operated screw propellers. The craft, called the Turtle, was sent to destroy the British flagship H.M.S. Eagle, then anchored in New York harbor. The mission failed.

John and William Braithwaite develop an improved version of Freminet's helmet, as does a German named Klingert in 1787.

An American, John Smeaton, incorporates several improvements to the diving bell, including: a bell made from cast iron; the first efficient hand-operated pump to sustain the air supply via a hose; an air reservoir system and nonreturn valves to keep air from being sucked back up the hoses when the pump stops. This is the first truly modern diving bell.

Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, builds an early submarine, the Nautilus. The cigar-shaped craft is made of wood over iron plates, and uses a horizontal rudder to control the up-and-down movement of the submarine. That invention is still in use today.

Englishman William H. James designs a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba). In this design, the diver wears a helmet and carries a supply of compressed air in a cast-iron belt fastened around the waist. According to James, the diver can stay underwater for as long as an hour using this outfit.

John and Charles Deane adapt a fire-fighting apparatus for use in diving, and call it the "Deane's Patent Diving Dress." The system is later modified into a prototype for the modern commercial diver's dress. The Deanes go on to become successful salvage operators, and produce what is probably the first diving manual.

An American engineer, Charles Condert, develops a type of scuba in which air is stored in a copper pipe worn around the body. The air is released into a hood that covers the upper half of the body. Condert dies while testing out his equipment.

Augustus Siebe, a German instrument maker, refines and improves the Deane's diving suit design and introduces the "Siebe Improved Diving Dress," the true predecessor to the famous deep-sea diving dress familiar today to everybody.

Salvage operation of the Royal George brings diving into the modern era, introducing many innovations and discoveries. For example, divers use underwater explosives for the first time, and the "buddy system" of divers working in pairs is introduced.

An improved scuba outfit is developed by Frenchmen Benoit Rouquayrot and Auguste Denayrouze. Their set is supplied with air pumped from the surface into a closed helmet suit; the suit is also fitted with a reservoir so that the diver can detach himself from the air hose for a few minutes.

Just a few years later, the Rouquayrot-Denayrouze apparatus is referred to in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

English seaman Henry Fleuss invents a compact, lightweight scuba that uses pure compressed oxygen and a system to "reuse" the air that the diver exhales by removing the carbon dioxide from it and recirculating it back to the diver over and over again.

This system gives divers greater independence from surface support. One problem with this system, though, is the danger posed by breathing pure oxygen at high pressure or when the person breathing it exerts great physical effort.

Paul Bert publishes a textbook, La Pression Barometrique, based on his studies of the physiological effect of changes in pressure. Bert shows that decompression sickness is caused by the formation of gas bubbles in the body, and suggests that gradual ascent will prevent decompression sickness.

In the same year, an English merchant seaman, Henry Fleuss, patents an effective scuba in which he uses a supply of pure oxygen under compression. By 1879 the system allows the diver to stay underwater for up to three hours straight.


back to Timeline

 Continue exploring the timeline into the 1900s and beyond!

What does the future hold? Read about the importance of --

* decompression and the bends
* modern scuba equipment
* Jacques Cousteau
* the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory
* the first nuclear-powered submarine
* Sea Hunt
* Sylvia Earle

diving suit:
a one-
atmosphere system. Illustration above, photo below.

The first submarine
used to attack a ship is launched in the United States.
Fulton's early submarine.
[U.S. Navy]
Siebe diving dress helmut.
[U.S. Navy]

Diving Suit.
of Sciences]