Grateful American® Foundation

Who created the first diving suit?

February 10th

Divers_-_Illustrated_London_News_Feb_6_1873-2February 10, 1774 — Today, Andrew Becker created a leather-covered diving suit with a helmet featuring a window. Becker used a system of tubes for inhaling and exhaling, and demonstrated his suit in the River Thames, London, during which he remained submerged for an hour.

But the first diving dress designs were developed by two English inventors in the 1710s. John Lethbridge built a completely enclosed suit to aid in salvage work. It consisted of a pressure-proof air-filled barrel with a glass viewing hole and two watertight enclosed sleeves.

This suit gave the diver more maneouverability to accomplish useful underwater salvage work. After testing this machine in his garden pond (specially built for the purpose) Lethbridge dived on a number of wrecks: four English men-of-war, one East Indiaman (both English and Dutch), two Spanish galleons and a number of galleys.

He became very wealthy as a result of the salvages. One of his better-known recoveries was on the Dutch Slot ter Hooge, which had sunk off Madeira with over three tons of silver on board.

In the 1830s, a German-born British engineer Augustus Siebe developed the standard diving dress. He expanded on improvements already made by another engineer, George Edwards, and produced his own design — a helmet fitted to a full length watertight canvas diving suit. Later dresses were made with waterproofed canvas invented by Charles Mackintosh. From the late 1800s and throughout most of the 20th century, most Standard Dresses consisted of a solid sheet of rubber between layers of tan twill.

Words of Wisdom

Why is it that scuba divers and surfers are some of the strongest advocates of ocean conservation? Because they've spent time in and around the ocean, and they've personally seen the beauty, the fragility, and even the degradation of our planet's blue heart.

— Sylvia Earle, American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer. Since 1998 she has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

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