Although divers today are able to descend to incredible depths, this would not have been possible without the continuous advances that were made to diving equipment over the years. Dive into the history and find out more…
La cloche à plongeur by Thomas HAMLET, Mathias ATTWOOD, Henry USBORNE et Thomas Starling BENSON. Brevet d'importation déposé le 11.02.1825 pour l'application et l'emploi de la cloche du plongeur et de tout autre appareil mécanique propre à plonger, non usités ni appliqués jusqu'à présent dans la pêche du corail (1BA2189).Original Source: archives INPI
The diving bell
Diving bells are shaped like upturned glasses and have been around in one form or another since ancient times. The diver breathes the air trapped inside the bell but there is no circulation, meaning that the diver risks suffocating without frequent return trips to the surface. While far from perfect, the diving bell represented the starting point for man's equipment-based underwater adventures.
The amphibian man
In the early days, diving equipment was rudimentary. In 1806, Pierre-Marie Touboulic designed a revolutionary diving device. The ichthyander (from the Greek for "fish-man") was an autonomous apparatus that operated underwater without any connection to the surface. It worked using chemicals and the diver was able to move about freely. Touboulic was the first person to design an oxygen-based diving device.
In 1826, Jean-Jérémie Poulliot filed a patent for a pneumatic regulator to be used for breathing underwater. As its name suggests, the regulator provided the diver with regular supplies of air at ambient pressure. Although the invention did not achieve lasting success, it represented a key step forward for 20th-century professional diving.
The underwater breathing apparatus
Lemaire d'Augerville's underwater breathing apparatus was another autonomous device that enabled divers to roam freely underwater. However, its weight was an issue. Underwater descents were more like terrifying plummets: the first divers to try it must have been scared out of their minds… Despite this, the device was used successfully for a range of underwater work.
Towards the atmospheric diving suit
In 1833, François Magny patented a system that fed air from the surface down to the diver. Although the idea was nothing new, his device had a novel metal wire frame with a waterproof cover inflated with air to resist the pressure of the water. There is no evidence that it was ever used, yet Magny's device paved the way for the development of the atmospheric diving suit.
Firemen hit the water
Paulin's diving device was based on a helmet designed for firefighters. This was the first French design with a single air-supply tube and release valve to remove excess air. Used exclusively by firefighters, the device’s limitations quickly became apparent: there was no suitable waterproof clothing available to protect them from the cold, and they had to dive wearing just an ordinary shirt and trousers. The invention soon bit the dust.
In search of autonomy
In the first quarter of the 19th century, the quest for underwater autonomy lead Jean Jérémie Poulliot to design his very own regulator. However, the technical inability to inflate a container subject to water pressure so that it would provide enough air made it impossible to create autonomous equipment. As a result, diving devices fed by one or two tubes continued to be used. However, a device patented by Manuel Théodore Guillaumet marked a turning point. It had a regulator tank worn on the diver's back, a vest that could be inflated with air at will, and an air-supply system consisting of a pump and intermediate tank. The latter stored the pressurized air before it was supplied through a tube to the diver, while the pressure regulator provided ambient-pressure air through a mouthpiece. With this design, Guillaumet's device offered a glimpse into the future of diving equipment.
20 brasses sous l'eau by Henry DAVEY. Brevet d'importation déposé le 30.01.1840 pour un appareil perfectionné à l'aide duquel on peut rester sous l'eau, à une profondeur de vingt brasses, pendant cinq heures, et travailler pour le sauvetage des objets naufragés, quel que soit leur poids (1BA008860).Original Source: archives INPI
20 Fathoms underwater
In 1840, Englishman Henry Davey filed a patent of importation for a device that was supplied with air from a closed-circuit pump. The equipment also had a rubber garment (jacket and trousers) which covered the diver's entire body, while the harness had a metal belt and heavy weight. The zinc helmet had two mesh openings, one in front of the eyes and another in line with the forehead.
The diving device
In the middle of the 19th century, a new type of "open" diving equipment was invented with an air-intake hose attached to the helmet at neck level. The air then exited the corset at belt level. Vincent Gibert's diving device marked a real turning point in the evolution of individual dive equipment and was the first equipment of this kind to be patented.
The dantez diving device
By this time, dive techniques and equipment were improving steadily and a long list of patents for diving devices had already been filed. One such patent was submitted by Dantez Jr in 1847. This was a real innovation as the helmet had both air-intake and air-release valves and the air pump was specially designed for scuba diving. Indeed, Dantez could be considered the inventor of the French diving suit. This was the first of many suits with helmets that would be used beyond the middle of the 20th century.
The aquatic armor suit
On November 27, 1847, Napoleon-Antoine Wolski patented his diving apparatus: the aquatic armor suit. The diver was shut inside a rigid device with metal armor covering his entire body and the joints had hinges that the inventor called "lobster tails." Wolski became the first inventor to hold a patent for a rigid metal armor device.
The photochemical-lifesaving apparatus
On February 12, 1849, chemist Pierre Amable de Saint-Simon-Sicart filed a patent for a photochemical-lifesaving apparatus and system for salvaging sunken ships. This autonomous device was a success, with many accounts describing how smoothly it worked. Despite this, the photochemical-lifesaving apparatus and system were forgotten over time.
The underwater helmet
Despite its name, the device patented by Jean-Jacques Danduran in 1843 was in fact more like an individual diving bell. The inventor wanted to avoid the dangers of having the diver breathe compressed air. However, the device had a major defect: it could only be used in shallow water. This was because water rose inside the helmet in proportion to the corresponding depth, meaning that at a depth of 10 meters it was half full. Although the diver could still breathe at this point, this would become impossible just a few meters further down.
The underwater diving device
Philippe Bigard was a man in search of innovation. In 1851, he invented a new underwater diving device with parts to cover the head, arms, chest, thighs, and feet, all of which could be made from copper or any other metal. The various joints had welded metal flanges covered with leather. This new device was similar to previous models, but the inclusion of waterproof joints was the main new development.
The rescue device
The Delange and Ernoux advanced rescue device was an open apparatus for which a patent was filed in 1853. Air was supplied through a hose attached to a pump which delivered a continuous flow of air to stop water entering via the bottom of the suit. Two men worked the pump while a third handled the tube and safety rope attached to the diver's belt. Given the boom in demand for work carried out underwater, Delange and Ernoux set up their own underwater works company.
The diving suit
By 1860, rubber manufacturer Joseph-Martin Cabirol had already filed a long list of patents. On February 20, he was granted a patent for a new "diving device called a diving suit." Although the principle had been invented in 1847 by Gustave Dantez, Cabirol perfected and marketed the design. His equipment was a great success with the Navy and civil engineers, as well as with contractors involved in underwater construction projects. Joseph-Martin is seen as the first French diving suit manufacturer, with the principle behind his equipment continuing to be used for more than a century after it was first developed.
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en collaboration avec Philippe DAMON