Monday, October 11, 2010

Improbable Diving Machines

Welcome back to the History of Diving Museum Collections Blog! You may have noticed we have taken a month long hiatus from online diving history. We are pleased to be sharing all new topics on items within the museum's collection. In our second series, we will cover part II of the U.S. Navy Mark V, rebreathers, and much more, with pictures and information that won't be found anywhere else!

This blog takes us back to the earliest of diving techniques...

The first exhibits at the History of Diving Museum illustrate a historical timeline, which reinforces the idea that there has always been a natural fascination for man to explore the deep sea, and before submarines, diving helmets and SCUBA, man employed a wide array of techniques to get there. As early as the first traces of mankind in ancient Mesopotamia, evidence confirms that diving techniques were used for a variety of applications.

As with any history, we tend to interpret it linearly, meaning we look directly at what led to our successful technologies. This approach to history, however, neglects key developments that can prove very significant to its interpretation. In the historical timeline, improbable diving machines present that segment in history almost lost because of an indirect link to the diving techniques of today.

The "Improbable Diving Machines" exhibit pays tribute to fanciful machines that were complicated, involved, and often times, functionally unsound. Many are oddly shaped with unusual designs, but however strange they appear, they are significant to the history of diving; they stand as proof that man did whatever was necessary to venture beneath the sea, regardless of the risks involved. For this reason, improbable diving machines belong in the timeline of diving.

Many of the improbable machines displayed in the exhibit have an easily identifiable design flaw. For instance, most visitors to the museum can point out the flaw in the the leather hood and snorkel concept (pictured on the right). This whimsical machine was limited by the pressure on the diver's chest, which would have prevented him from inhaling air more than one or two feet deep (hence the length of the average snorkel). Another limitation is that the snorkel is made of leather, a collapsible material, which also would have failed because of the effects of the hydrostatic pressure. This apparatus has a unique design, and with certain tweaks (shortened length of the snorkel and constructed with a solid composite) it might have worked.

Although this exhibit is named for the improbability of the successful application of these machines, not all would have failed...

Take for example Frederic Drieberg's "Le Triton," a surprisingly complex diving machine first conceptualized in 1805. The backpack contained two bellows activated by the diver moving his head back and forth. The bellows received air supply from the surface that supply air to the diver and also to his lamp. This early attempt at underwater lighting recognized that candle flame needs fresh air just as the diver would. The design, although highly unlikely to be of any purposeful application, could have worked in shallow-water. Along with this diving apparatus, the History of Diving Museum also displays Drieberg's original book "The Memoir of a New Diving Machine called Triton" illustrating this spectacular apparatus (written in 1811).

Another improbable diving machine on display at the museum is the"copper kettle," designed by Karl Heinrich Klingert, a German-born mechanical engineer. Credited as an innovator in diving, his copper kettle shares many similiarities to the diving helmet, which wouldn't be developed commercially for nearly a century. One of the first examples of self-contained diving, Klingert's design used a large reservoir piston or could be supplied from the surface. The copper kettle was used successfully in 1797, when a diver wearing Klingert's outfit removed a submerged tree limb from the River Oder in Germany.

Although Drieberg's "Le Triton" and Klingert's "copper kettle" never became the standard diving equipmet, they are significant from the standpoint that there was great risk involved. They provide a broader understanding of man as an explorer, a maverick, and a dare devil that put life in harm's way to explore the unknown. The "Improbable Diving Machines" exhibit is significant to explain a segment in history where many different machines were tried, not to become pioneers in diving, but to better access the world around us.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The U.S. Navy Mark V

It's hard to believe, but the History of Diving Museum Collections Blog is entering into its third month of online diving history! The focus of this blog has been to inform readers on the history of artifacts within the collection. So far, I have chosen only those items with great significance to diving and Florida Keys history. Although diving bells, Art McKee, the first American diving helmet and the last petroleum lamp are very important, I have somehow neglected quite possibly the most important piece of diving history...

The U.S. Navy Mark V is the most coveted and recognized diving helmet in the world. It embodies helmeted diving with its bold look, functional design and long-standing history in American diving. Navy Dive Master Carl Brashear (his story was the inspiration for the movie Men of Honor) used a Mark V during his career. Today, it symbolizes not only an important segment in diving history, but also stands as one of the most important technologies in the history of the world.

On to the history...

The U.S. Navy discovered a growing need for a standardized diving program. To the surprise of many, at the turn of the century the Navy had neither a standardized procedure or equipment for the diving program. Consequently, they were diving any and all equipment available, often with little knowledge of the dangers associated with diving.

In 1912, Navy Gunner G.D. Stillson wrote a letter to the Bureau of Construction and Repair (Bureau of Ships as it is called today) concerning the current diving program or lack thereof! He assembled a team and began a critical analysis of existing diving procedures. In the following years, Stillson and his team were commissioned to evaluate, improve and redesign every part of the diving program.

This evaluation produced two major developments. By 1915 G. D. Stillson, through the intercession of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, completed the first U.S. Navy guideline for diving known as the Report on Deep Diving Tests. This report served as the framework for Navy diving in the years to come. In it, Stillson discussed the necessary decompression times for deep dives, principles of pressure and most importantly, the equipment fostered through the program.

In Stillson's evaluations, he tested a wide variety of diving equipment, mostly those from the Schrader and Morse Companies, but also equipment from Draeger and Siebe. In the two years leading up to the completion of the Report on Deep Diving Tests, a standardized equipment would be developed for the U.S. Navy, giving birth to the Mark I!

The Mark V helmet, the standardization of the diving program and the self evaluation of the program, symbolizes the future of the U.S. military as we know it. Mark, a work frequently associated with military hardware, simply means a 'standard' or 'variant.'

Stillson and the Navy experimented with four versions of the Mark helmets, the Mark I, II,III and IV. The Mark V combined the best aspects from the previous four helmets. The final version was completed in 1917 and remained largely unchanged until its decommission in 1984. It is believed that only a mere 7,000 to 10,000 were ever constructed.

Four companies were commissioned to build the Mark V. The first Mark V helmet was made by the Morse Company; it is also the most common. Schrader, Desco and Miller-Dunn were also commissioned to build the Mark V. The Miami based Miller-Dunn Company produced the fewest helmets making them the rarest by today's standard. Out of the hundred or so helmets manufactured by the Miller-Dunn Company, the History of Diving Museum has two on display.

A Mark V helium rebreather version was also developed. The helmet has a large helium scrubber on the back. Of course, adding a large helium scrubber serves as a reservoir for more air, adding increased force buoying the apparatus and diver to the surface. To offset this affect, the helium Mark V needed increased weight to compensate for this added force. The boots are larger and lace just below the knee (a rather stunning look for those who have seen the design). The 'Banana Exhaust' was moved from the back of the helmet to the top where it was excluded from its original placement due to the scrubber. Lastly, the dumbbell lock was moved from the rear of the helmet to the front.

In the late 1970's, the Mark helmets changed completely. No longer a metallic base, the Marks are now fiber glass which changed the identity forever. HDM displays a newer version from the Mark line. The Morse Mark XII is the successor to their line of copper helmets. The top part of the helmet can be used alone for swim diving with air supplied by a hose from the surface, or a backpack or used with a 12-bolt attachment. It is much lighter than the original Mark V diving dress.

The Mark V is the icon of helmeted diving, thus this blog cannot be completed without a more in depth look at the helmet. This will be a two-part blog; the second part will provide an overview of the components on the Mark V. If you would like to learn more about what made this helmet one of the best manufactured technologies of the twentieth century, stay tuned for our next blog! The History of Diving Museum is the largest collection of historical diving apparatus in the world, we're proud to be your source for diving history!

Sources: (accessed 08/28/2010)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Petroleum Underwater Diver's Light, Cabirol, France c.1860

The History of Diving Museum (HDM) displays many artifacts that are one of a kind, the first or simply the rarest in existence. However, out of the many priceless artifacts, the Cabirol Petroleum lamp is extremely rare and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Significant from both a technological and conceptual standpoint, the Cabirol Petroleum lamp was designed in 1860 by Joseph Cabirol in France. This grand petroleum lamp was made before electricity was used in underwater lighting! The Cabirol lamp predated the transition from open flame to electricity.

Now, to take a step back, it is best to understand the history of electricity to appreciate the significance of the Cabirol lamp. A late 19th century design, it barely missed the jump from oil lighting to electricity (a fuel that would be outsourced shortly thereafter). The discovery of electricity dates back to 3rd century B.C.E. during the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Texts confirm an understanding of electrical charge created by fish. However, electricity and positive energy would remain an intellectual phenomenon for the next two-thousand years. Many credit Benjamin Franklin with the first discovery and application of electric charge in his famous, 'kite in a thunderstorm' experiment, but truthfully, it wasn't until the 19th century that Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Otto Blathy, Anyos Jedlik, Sir Charles Parsons, George Westinghouse, Ernst Werner von Siemens, and Lord Kelvin transformed electricity from an intellectual curiosity to an essential tool for everyday life.

From a design standpoint, the fuel source (petroleum) was held in the bottom canister. To keep the flame burning in the crystal sphere, a steady supply of oxygen was needed -- just as a diver would need fresh air. The air was provided by a dedicated 2-piston air pump contained in the pump box. The air was pumped through a set of rubberized hoses (in 1860!), down the lamp. The hot gases were then channeled out the top and through the pipes surrounding the crystal globe, where the hot fumes were coolest to prevent scorching rubber return hoses.

Due to a fortuitous accident, this rare lamp was preserved for 150 years! The petroleum flame was lit and the lamp was quickly closed to make it watertight. But before the lamp was lowered into the water, the crystal globe became too hot and cracked -- as can be seen on the lamp! Because the lamp was broken, it was condemned to a removed warehouse, where it was forgotten for a century and a half.

The lamp is displayed in the "Abyss" exhibit at HDM.

The Cabirol Company

Cabirol is also known in the historical diving community for its contribution to helmeted diving. Around 1842, the company began producing helmets; their inclusion of a top window separated their design from that of the Morse Company. Although few still remain, the HDM collection owns a Cabirol helmet. An extremely rare artifact in its own right, missing the front port and brails, its dull color suggests the uncommon nature of the item.

At the time, the Cabirol Company was highly regarded in France and respected for their contributions in diving. The French, in their typical decadent fashion, prominently displayed divers etched in stone with the inscription "Famille Cabirol-Ferrus" on the steps of the Cabirol factory. To our dismay, two larger divers surrounded the doors of the factory, carrying none other than the Cabirol petroleum lamp.

Today, the Cabirol Company is no longer in existence. Once a small company in France, Cabirol was almost forgotten in diving history. HDM serves as the company's greatest monument and appreciation for their contribution to diving history.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Morse Diving Helmet: Serial No.1

The History of Diving Museum displays the largest collection of historical diving aparatus in the world. Out of the hundreds of diving helmets on display, Dr. Sally Bauer (co-founder of the History of Diving Museum) values one helmet in particular as most significant to the museum. The Morse diving helmet, inscribed with the serial No. 1, represents the intrinsic value and rarity of the History of Diving Museum collection. It is the first helmet mass produced in the U.S., and is potentially the most sought after diving helmet in the world. It was manufactured in Boston, Massachusetts during the Civil War era.

Dr. Joe and Sally Bauer acquired the helmet in the early 2000's. At this juncture, the Bauers had been collecting historical diving apparatus for the better part of 30 years. The collection took them to virtually every corner of the world. Sally is quoted as saying, "it is the story of how each item was acquired that makes collecting special." This acquisition has its own unique story that adds to the allure of its history.

There were few collectors with the passion of Joe and Sally Bauer. Known in the diving community for their aggressive pursuit of the rarest historical diving equipment, they were contacted about a helmet worth their attention. The acquisition of this helmet took them to Michigan to a cowboy themed hotel and restaurant. The restaurant was covered with all sorts of items, some with no western theme whatsoever. Amongst many picked items were multiple diving helmets; however, Joe and Sally were there to see one in particular: the Morse helmet inscribed with serial No. 1.

At first glance, Joe and Sally were mortified by the careless storage of a one of a kind artifact; the helmet sat on the 3rd story railing, a casual glance would have sent the helmet crashing to the floor. The Bauers recognized the rarity of the helmet and carefully removed it from the railing.

It is these types of stories that kept the Bauers collecting, and allowed for the inception of the History of Diving Museum. The museum allows for proper care and exhibition of the helmet. It now sits prominently in the "Parade of the Nations" exhibit.

The History of the Morse Company, manufacturer of the first American diving helmet.

The Morse Company was established in 1837, making them the oldest manufacturer of diving equipment in the world. Originally, the Morse Company was a partnership between Morse and Fletcher for the manufacture of brass goods at the corner of Waters and Congress Streets, Boston, MA. In 1864, the firm changed it name to the Andrew J. Morse and Sons Company which it continued to use until 1940. It would later be renamed the Morse Diving Inc.

Morse is one of the most well-respected names in diving. Many artifacts in the History of Diving Museum owe their design to the Morse Company. However, Morse's most significant contribution would come with the production of the most well-known diving helmet ever built, the Mark V. The majority of Mark V helmets were manufactured by the Morse Company. Morse is also credited with manufacturing the next generation Mark 12 free flow diving helmet used by the US Navy for almost 20 years.

Today, Morse Diving is located in Rockland, Massachusetts and remains one of the largest suppliers of commercial and recreational diving equipment.

You can visit their website at

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Art McKee: The Father of Modern Treasure Hunting

The evolution of modern salvage diving can be understood through life of one man. Arthur McKee Jr., considered the "father of modern treasure hunting," was the first to recognize that the reef-riddled Florida Keys provided a precious landscape for wrecked ships carrying even more precious cargo. He would be the first to salvage these ships, and in the process, become a pioneer in the salvage industry and the history of diving.

Art McKee (1910-1979) rose from meek beginnings before making his mark on history. A native of Bridgetown, New Jersey, he had a natural fascination for the underwater environment. As a young boy he is noted to have read books such as: On the Bottom by Commander Ellsberg and I Dive for Treasure by Lieutenant Harry E. Riesenberg, foreshadowing an early passion for his later achievements.

Art's first experience in diving came at the coat tails of a major storm that devastated the South Jersey Shore in 1934. A hard-hat diver commissioned young Art McKee to assist in the salvage effort of the collapsed bridge that connected east and west Bridgetown. At the time, McKee was a mere line tender and assistant of sorts but would continue in bridge building efforts to someday become a hard-hat diver himself.

As fate would have it, McKee suffered a knee injury in 1936 forcing him to South Florida where he could rehabilitate in the warm South Florida water year-round. Initially, he was hired to assist in repairing the underwater pipeline that supplied freshwater from Homestead to Key West, a trade he was familiar with from his days in New Jersey.

A key development in the Art McKee story was when he replaced the standard diving equipment with an open-bottom helmet because the full diving-dress was too warm for the south Florida waters. He replaced it with the Miller-Dunn "Divinhood," (pictured on the left with Art McKee) a design absent of a diving suit. He found the apparatus practical not only for its cooler temperature but for the simplicity of the unit. The standard diving-dress would take a team to suit-up a diver, whereas the Divinhood could be used by a single diver with only the help of a pump operator. Even with the advent of swim-diving, Art remained loyal to the apparatus, a technology he believed much of his career was owed.

Art's first experience in salvaging came when his preparation as a hard-hat diver met opportunity. He was notified by a local fisherman about a cannon protruding from ballast stones a short distance from Key Largo. What first appeared to be scrapped metal turned out to be remnants from the wrecked ship, Capitana el Rui (from the Spanish treasure fleet that wrecked in 1733). Art McKee spent the next 20 years salvaging the wreck, but this was only the beginning of his legacy in the salvage industry.

The turning point in Art's career was when he discovered his first silver bar. Locally, his legend as a salvage diver was growing. Art was contacted by Dr. Barney Crile, chief surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, about a wreck off Looe Key. Dr. Crile commissioned Art McKee to investigate the site, in what turned out to be the "Ivory Wreck" (a slave ship that wrecked in the 1700's). Named for its contents, together they recovered ivory tusks and silver bars. Dr. Crile recorded the salvaging of the wreck in his book entitled, Treasure Diving Holidays, which contains pictures of Art McKee, ivory tusks, and the Miller-Dunn Divinhood.

Before long, Art had acquired a large collection, and realizing the general public was interested in his new found trade, the logical progression was to open a museum to display his artifacts. The Museum of Sunken Treasure was initially located in Treasure Harbor in Plantation Key, where the building structure remains to this day. As Art continued in his career and the collection continued to grow, the limited space at the first museum proved inadequate to house the collection. The final landing spot for the museum was in Art McKee's Treasure Castle. Today, most would recognize it as the Montessori School or Treasure Village. When the museum opened it was a major landmark and the premier tourist attraction in the Upper Keys.

Much of Art McKee's success is owed to his extremely driven and charismatic personality. Art was featured in LIFE Magazine and appeared on the Dave Garroway Show, proof that Art McKee had truly become famous. He persuaded some of the world's best underwater minds to join him in salvage efforts. Ed Link (best known for the invention of the Link Trainer) and Mendel Peterson (curator and head of archaeology at the Smithsonian Institute) became involved in various capacities with Art McKee. Together, they assume credit for developing the tools for modern salvage diving. They invented the underwater metal detector, jet propulsion vehicle, and sifting cage.

Although Art McKee achieved great success as a salvage diver, it was his insatiable appetite for adventure that kept him searching. He was one of the first to excavate Port Royal, but his dying wish was to find the wreck of the Genoves. The mother-load of wrecks, the Genoves contained 3 million pesos of gold and silver. Art McKee launched several expeditions with no success, but shortly before his death in 1979, he discovered the wreck of the Genoves.

Today, information on the life of Art McKee is scant, and his achievements in the salvage industry are just a part of the history of the wrecks that he salvaged. However, diving history allows for the proper avenue for his life to be memorialized. The History of Diving Museum has a single diver on the outside of the building. Due to his impact on diving and the Florida Keys, the museum chose to portray Art McKee as part of the mural on the building's facade, and inside the museum the Treasure Room displays an exhibit commemorating the extraordinary life of Art McKee.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The "Diving Bell"

Welcome to Dive into History: The History of Diving Museum Collections Blog! This is our newest medium to share diving history. This section is devoted to displaying, describing and offering history about the History of Diving Museum's collection. Check in with us weekly, as we will offer a new bit of history and pictorials.

The month of June at the museum was all about diving bells...

One of the well-known, but easily overlooked wonders of applied science is the diving bell. The diving bell is an airtight chamber that is suspended underwater as a workstation for a single or multiple divers; it will refresh divers with air without having to come to the surface, allowing a diver to remain underwater for extended periods of time. The apparatus is named for its resemblance to a bell, in that it is narrow at the top and open at the bottom.

The diving bell allowed for the exploration of our depths longer than any other diving apparatus known to man. Dr. Joe Bauer, co-founder of the History of Diving Museum, addressed the significance of the diving bell to the field of diving by saying, "Over the millennia, the diving bell has been the most important concept and invention in diving."

Dr. Bauer's interpretation is overwhelmingly accurate and true; in fact, the history of the diving bell spans back to the 4th Century B.C.E., during the time of Greek Philosopher, Aristotle and Macedonian King, Alexander the Great; both of whom were bell divers. However, the diving bell wouldn't reach its climatic point until the 17th century C.E. when Dr. Edmund Halley improved the design.

Dr. Halley, best known for the discovery of the comet that bears his name, added an air replenishing system to overcome the affects of atmospheric pressure. He also recorded his findings in the most well-read scientific compilation in existence, the Philosophical Transactions.

However, his most significant contribution to the history of diving came when he built the first-known diving helmet that was the precursor to all others. The History of Diving Museum displays this information in more fanciful detail, to include a replica of Halley's diving bell and helmet.