Giovanni Alfonzo Borelli


Was a well known Italian mathematic and physicist. After his death in 1680 his work was published. It contained every design from his time, diving bell, breathing tube, submarine with airbags but above all the diving apparatus with an air tube with adjustable volume (inspired by the fish) would influence all later designs. The diver wears a helmet of cooked leather. He breaths in a leather bag that he takes with him under water as a artificial lung. The bag contains air under normal pressure. To compensate positive buoyancy the diver carried a 1 meter long cylinder with a device to change its volume. Pressure was not invented yet. This design would never have worked. After going just a few centimeters down the helmet would suck itself vacuum on the divers head and cause his death.



Chevalier de Beauve


There is a document with the name "le plongeur du Chevalier de Beauve" dated 1715. The document gives a description and  a detailed drawing of a closed diving system where the helmet is attached to the diving dress. Exhaled air escaped through a second pipe. The helmet featured a breast- and back plate to prevent effects of compression. The suit was "open" to the middle. Lower part of the body, arms and legs where not protected from water pressure. 


In the year 1772 in the French city of Le Havre, doctor Freminet went down to a depth of 15 meters in a leather suit and copper helmet. On his back he carried a container with compressed air. Air entered the helmet via two pipes. Freminet called his invention Machine Hydrostatergatique. A number of dives were made and as far as I know no fatal accidents occurred. Freminet stated that exhaled air was "regenerated" because the air ran thru water-cooled pipes from and to the helmet. The container featured a ventilator that worked on a spring. Freminet said this influenced the regenerating process in a positive matter. On every dive he could stay below for several minutes.



In a later Freminet design the reservoir hung behind the diver. Air circulation was arranged by a bellows that was operated by a spring.


In 1783 the Frenchman Forfait hands in a proposal for a new diving suit at the French academy for Science in Rouen. His suit features a hard back and front side. Also the helmet is supplied with a candle. Suit and candle were never made.

Karl Heinrich Klingert

Known to be the inventor of the "free flow" open diving system. In 1797 he developed an open diving helmet with two joints to inhale and exhale compressed air. His suit was connected to a large air tank that featured a adjustable piston so that buoyancy could be controlled. This gear appeared to be so hard to handle that he later developed a version with a smaller air tank. In 1797 a number of test dives were made. 



In 1805 in Leipzig  a book is published with the title "Die Taucher Machine von herren P. Kreeft". It is an eye witness report of the use of diving gear. The drawing shows a suit and helmet. Via a flexible hose air is supplied from the surface. There is a second hose that serves as a speaking tube between diver and surface.


John en Charles Deane

In the year 1824 the English inventor Charles Anthony Deane obtains a patent on a "smoke helmet" for firefighting. As from that moment in the years that follow this hat is also used to dive. The helmet fits over the head of the diver and is kept in place by weights. Air is supplied from the surface thru a hosepipe. In 1828 Charles and his brother John hit the market with this helmet and suit. 

The helmet is not attached to the suit but is kept in place by straps. The helmet is over the head like a diving bell. This situation is not ideal: As soon as the diver bends over he runs the chance of helmet and suit filling up with water with the consequence of drowning. This gear was used several times successfully in salvage operations.

William James

In 1825 William James enters the first practical proposal for a "self contained diving dress". It consisted of a copper helmet that was attached to a watertight suit that was sealed of at the waist and the wrists with elastical cuffs. Air was transported from a metal container around the waist to the helmet via a valve that was operated by hand. On the bottom of the container where weights to keep the diver down. The diver inhaled thru the nose and exhaled thru the mouth. From the mouthpiece a short pipe went up to the top of the helmet. The idea was OK but the time to be spent under water very limited. 


Charles Condert

Poor Charles Condert! He was, very likely, the world’s first successful SCUBA diver, but is completely ignored by history.

Some claim Klingert was first, but while Klingert (actually, his hired diver, F.W. Joachim) made a successful surface support dive in June of 1798, his design for autonomous underwater gear almost certainly never got wet.

Others claim James was first, based solely on his 1825 patent for two versions of autonomous underwater gear. But, again, there is no evidence that James’ rig was actually built or tested.

In the early 1800s many patents, especially from England and the United States, were reported and reviewed in popular engineering journals circulating on both sides of the pond. These journals were the Popular Mechanix and Popular Science of their day, reporting on fantastical new technology with the same "gee whiz" bent, and often publishing engravings that were illustrator’s fantasy, not eye-witness renderings. But these journals were unquestionably the source of many inventors’ inspiration and contributed to the similarity of ideas and methods springing nearly simultaneously in America and Europe.

The James patent was reviewed in one of these, the Journal of the Franklin Institute, in 1828. Shortly after, Brooklyn machinist Charles Condert fabricated a SCUBA tank from four feet of six inch copper tubing. The tank was bent into a semi-circle and worn around the small of the back, projecting to the sides, suspended by a harness over the shoulders. Condert made his compressor from a gun barrel and pumped into the tank, "as much air as he supposed would be required for the time he intended to remain under water." Fifteen cubic feet would be a reasonable guess. From a small hand-operated valve at the tank, a tube ran under the hip-length rubberized fabric tunic and up into the attached hood, made of the same material. Condert is reported to have considered an exhaust valve, but found that a tiny hole in the crown of the hood served quite well.

The displacement of his tank was about 50 pounds of water, and the displacement of his dress must have been considerably more as he carried 200 pounds of weight attached to the tank. The drawing reproduced here is from an 1835 letter from "T.E." to the Committee on Publications of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, and is probably not accurate. At the very least, it omits the 200 pounds of weight that Condert carried.

Condert made several dives with this gear in the East River, descending on a shot line to about twenty feet. On his last dive, in August of 1832, Charles Condert died, becoming the first documented SCUBA fatality. When Condert’s body was pulled to the surface, it was noted that the breathing tube had broken, and this is the usual cause given for his demise. But from 20 feet, he could have easily ascended the shot line with the air remaining in his voluminous dress, thus the broken breathing tube explanation makes little sense. Given the extreme weight carried, concentrated around the hips, and the open waist of his dress, it is far more likely that a fall flooded the dress and the air tube was broken in the fall or the subsequent fatal struggle.

Condert’s remains little more than a footnote in diving history. His rig was never patented, though it was used on many occasions. He is the earliest documented (so far) successful, practical, SCUBA diver in America and, I contend, in the world.


Adapted from 'SCUBA, the First Two Hundred Years', copyright O. Michael Gray, used with permission.



Leonard Norcross


Invents the first closed helmet diving apparatus in 1834. The helmet was made of lead and the air pipe from the surface entered the helmet on top. It also featured a pressure valve. At this moment this apparatus is still being investigated. It is not sure if any of his apparatus still exists today. Helmet and suit were attached by a watertight joint and as soon as the diver closed the valve, the whole suit was filled with air. This points out that Norcross could have been the inventor of the first closed diving dress.


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  • Last edited October 22nd 2004