In 1914, Chester MacDuffee constructed the first suit with ball bearings as the medium to provide movement to a joint. The suit was tested in New York in 214 feet of water. 1914.
At the beginning of the 18th century, individual diving suits were invented, allowing for more advanced exploration of the ocean’s depths. At a period in time when many ships (containing a great deal of treasure) were lost to the ocean on perilous journeys, the initial impetus for the invention of diving suits was to aid in recovery efforts.
In the 1710s, the first diving suits were designed, and in 1715, the English inventor John Lethbridge created the first fully-enclosed diving suit. The suit had watertight sleeves, a pressurized air-filled barrel, and a viewing hole in the front of the suit.
Karl Heinrich Klingert was the first to develop a full-body diving suit in 1797 in Poland. The suit consisted of a metal helmet, a wide metal girdle and pants, and a leather vest that was cleaned to be waterproof. Using a pump turret, air could be supplied to the diver in the shape of a long tube followed by weight.
The development of “heavy footers” in 1837 was the next important advance in diving technology. Heavy footers were diving suits that enclosed the diver in thick, waterproof leather and included a hefty metal helmet and weighted boots. The diving helmets developed for this purpose were used for over a century. The diving helmet suit allowed divers more freedom of movement while going through the water.
In 1878, Alphonse and Theodore Carmagnolle of Marseille, France, developed an armored suit that featured twenty tiny portholes and articulated limbs. For their innovation, they were granted a patent. It weighed 838 pounds.
A P-7 Neufeldt and Kuhnk metal diving suit is tested in France. 1926.
This was the first human-shaped atmospheric diving suit (ADS), meaning that the pressure inside the suit was one atmosphere, the same as the pressure at the surface. As a result, the diver did not have to worry about the risks involved with decompression.
Sadly, the suit was never able to work as planned, and the joints were never completely waterproof. The original outfit may be shown in the French National Navy Museum in Paris at the current time.
In the same year, a man named Henry Fleuss of London invented the first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (also known as SCUBA) using compressed oxygen. This enabled him to become the first to ever participate in scuba diving. In 1878, he applied for and was awarded a patent that made it impossible for divers to get their oxygen supply from the surface.
A rubber mask was attached to a rubber airbag, a copper oxygen tank, and a CO2 scrubber, allowing exhaled air to be re-breathed.
This device’s original aim was to rescue trapped miners, but its potential use in underwater rescue missions was quickly recognized. Even though it limited the divers’ working depth due to the risk of oxygen toxicity, this was a ground-breaking design.
The United States Navy was the second navy in the world to create a training program for divers in 1882, following in the footsteps of the British navy, which was the first navy to train and recruit divers for its objectives.
Yet, there was very little official interest in this new technology, and it wasn’t until the USS Maine sank in 1898 that American divers could show their usefulness and significance. At that moment, they could obtain the cipher code again for the ship, keeping the data from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Neufeldt-Kuhnke suit. This third-generation shell (produced between 1929-1940) with a closed circuit breathing system was safe up to a depth of 525 feet (160 m) and had a telephone.
Inventor J. S. Peress explains the workings of his new rustless diving suit, made of Staybrite Silver Steel, at the Olympia Shipping Exhibition in London. The suit weighs 550 pounds and can work at a depth of 650 feet.
J.S. Peress, the inventor of a new armored diving suit, gets his device ready for tests in a tank at Weybridge, United Kingdom. 1930.
Two divers, one wearing the Tritonia ADS and the other wearing a standard diving dress, are preparing to explore the RMS Lusitania wreck, 1935.
American inventor H.L. Bowdoin with his deep-sea diving suit, featuring shoulder-mounted 1,000-watt lamps and an integrated telephone. 1931.
Bowdoin’s diving suit. 1934.
A group of Los Angeles boys shows off diving helmets made from sections of water heaters, boilers, and other easily secured junk. 1933.
German diving suits. 1920s.
Diving suit designed by Alphonse and Theodore Carmagnolle.
Neufeldt-Kuhnke diving suit. 1917-1922.
(Photo credit: Keystone-France / Hulton Archive / Library of Congress).
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