Into The Abyss: 20 Vintage Deep Sea Diving Photos

Published September 18, 2017

Venture into the shadowy ocean deep with this gallery of the often bizarre suits that humankind wore in order to first dive below the surface.

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Into The Abyss: 20 Vintage Deep Sea Diving Photos
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Since humankind first paddled out into the sea in primitive canoes, life below the water's surface has been a place of alluring danger and mystery.

Yet, while the ancient Greeks were known for their impressive skill at freediving for harvesting pearls and sponges, it wasn't until the 16th century that divers could stay underwater for more than a few minutes with the use of diving bells (airtight chambers lowered into the sea). As useful as they were at the time, they were still incredibly limiting both in the depths that a diver could explore and the time they could spend underwater.

Then, in the 19th century, surface-supplied diving — different from scuba diving because air is supplied via an umbilical from the surface — would mark the first steps towards the modern diving of today.

We've all no doubt seen that era's bulky copper diving helmets sitting on the shelf as decoration at some seafood restaurant. As cumbersome as they might look, however, these helmets revolutionized underwater sea exploration when they were invented in the 1820s (though, oddly enough, the helmet was invented to be used as a breathing device for firefighters).

In addition to those helmets, watertight canvas diving suits filled with air worked to combat the ocean's pressure and metal boots known as "heavy footers" allowed the diver to walk on the ocean floor. This completed diving suit would be used by the military and explorers for everything from minesweeping to working on bridges and exploring shipwrecks.

As technologically advanced as these suits were for the time, they still limited the depths to which men could plunge without being crushed by the ocean's unrelenting pressure.

For reaching the deepest of the deep, humans would need to be encased in the strongest of steel. The earliest atmospheric diving suits, developed in the 19th century, looked like space alien armor and because of their steel design could weigh as much as 850 pounds.

Advances in technology would gradually make the suits lighter — though not much less cumbersome — and eventually allow humans to venture over a mile under the water's surface. The most recent depth record was set by U.S. Navy Diver Daniel Jackson when he reached a depth of 2,000 feet in 2006. Jackson would describe his experience as "the best ride in the world."

Full of danger and surprise, the vintage deep sea diving photos above reveal the best ride in the world and serve as a reminder of humankind's constant pursuit to explore the unknown.

Next, dive back into the deep with this mesmerizing gallery of jellyfish facts. Then, check out more vintage photos of discovery with a look at the early days of Antarctic expeditions.

Joel Stice
Joel Stice holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with more than 10 years of experience in writing and editing, during which time his work has appeared on Heavy, Uproxx, and Buzzworthy.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Stice, Joel. "Into The Abyss: 20 Vintage Deep Sea Diving Photos.", September 18, 2017, Accessed May 23, 2024.