The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

By Attila Nagy on at

Last week we introduced to you the totally awesome Exosuit, a $600,000 (£358,000) atmospheric diving suit, capable of taking a human 1,000 feet underwater at surface pressure. This means that the diver doesn't have to decompress and there is no need for special breathing gas mixtures, so there is no danger of decompression sickness or nitrogen narcosis.

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Engineers have been trying to build hard, armoured suits since the 19th century; below is a brief pictorial history :

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

This deep-sea atmospheric diving suit, designed by Alphonse and Théodore Carmagnolle (Marseille, France), was patented in 1882. It was the first properly anthropomorphic design. Sadly it never worked properly.

Photo: Fanny Schertzer/Wikimedia Commons//Myrabella/Wikimedia Commons


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

An early atmospheric diving suit, designed by M. de Pluvy, french hydraulic engineer in 1906.

Photo: HDS Italia/Scientific American, December 08, 1906/The Abbeville press and banner., July 17, 1907


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

1911: Chester E. Macduffee next to his patented diving suit. It was made from aluminium alloy and weighted about 250 kilograms. Macduffee’s suit reached 65 metres of waterdepth in 1915!

Photo: therebreathersite.nl/Popular Mechanics, Dec 1914


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Popular Science, Aug 1922

The Leavitt suit, designed by Captain Benjamin Leavitt, patented in 1920. The suit was made of manganese bronze, and could carry a four-hour supply of oxygen and a telephone.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Memory of the Netherlands/Memory of the Netherlands

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Image: Petit Journal Illustre, Dec 17, 1922/Scientific American, March 1923/NOAA Library Collection

Diving suit made by the Neufeldt & Kuhnke company of Kiel, Germany, the first version of the N&K ADS called “Tiefseetaucher".


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Memory of the Netherlands/Memory of the Netherlands

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Memory of the Netherlands

2nd Generation Neufeldt-Kuhnke suit, c1923.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Memory of the Netherlands/Memory of the Netherlands

1924: Deep-sea diver in his iron suit, probably designed by Chester E. Macduffee.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: E. Bacon/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

1925: Joseph Salim Peress, pioneering British diving engineer and his steel diving suit.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Google patents/History of Diving Museum

Iron Mike was built in 1930 by the New York Empire Marine Salvage Engineering Company to help in the recovery of sunken treasure and other valuable goods. It was designed by Thomas Patrick Connelly, patented only in 1935.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo source: Képes Vasárnap, 1939. március 26.

This piece of diving armour is referred to as Hagenuk or Iron Duke. It was made by Hagenuk in Kiel, Germany. In 1931 Iron Duke dove down to 450 feet to salvage sunken treasure from the wreck of the Egypt. The diver recovered 10 tonnes of silver and 5 tonnes of gold. It was the greatest treasure salvage of all time.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Popular Mechanics, Jan 1931

1931: All metal diving suit equipped with telephone and electric headlights, for salvage operations at depths of 200 feet or more.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: OAR/National Undersea Research Programme (NURP)

Tritonia, Joseph Salim Peress' 1-atm dive suit (on the left), explored the Lusitania wreck in 1935. Jim Jarrett was Peress's chief diver and made this dive to 312 feet. This suit was a precursor to the "Jim" suit, named for Jim Jarrett.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Galeazzi Company/Popular Mechanics, Jul 1938

Roberto Galeazzi, the famed Italian helmet maker and one of his early atmospheric diving suit.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Central Press/Getty Images

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: W. Busch/OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Suzanne Vlamis/AP

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Illustration: A.E. Brotman/Popular Science, May 1983

The JIM suit was invented in 1969 by Mike Humphrey and Mike Borrow*, partners in the English firm Underwater Marine Equipment Ltd (UMEL), assisted by Joseph Salim Peress. JIM is named after Jim Jarrett, Tritonia suit diver and Lusitania explorer.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: R. Wicklund/OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)

WASP is a modified JIM suit with thrusters, piloted here by Graham Hawkes.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Nuytco Research Ltd

1987: The Newtsuit 1000 is a lightweight atmospheric diving system (ADS) and was invented and patented by Nuytco Research Ltd’s Phil Nuytten.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: U.S. Navy

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: U.S. Navy/National Archives

The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: U.S. Navy/National Archives

The ADS 2000 was developed jointly with OceanWorks International Corp. and the US Navy in 1997, as an evolution of the Newtsuit to meet US Navy requirements. In 2006 Chief Navy Diver (DSW/SS) Daniel P. Jackson submerged 2,000 feet, setting a record using the ADS 2000.


The Evolution of the Atmospheric Diving Suit

Photo: Michael Hession/Gizmodo

2014: The Exosuit by Nuytco Research Ltd.