The development of the diving helmet started with the Deane brothers in 1823. They used an open helmet which was made for them by Augustus Siebe. This helmet flooded when the diver bended over so it was not a very safe way to dive. The open helmet was used until 1837, when Augustus Siebe patented the first closed diving system. From this moment, the complete diving suit pushed the open helmet aside; slowly but surely the open helmet felt into oblivion.
In the beginning of 1900, the open helmet returns at the diving scene in the U.S. Well knows manufacturers were Miller Dunn, Morse, Schrader, Desco and Snead. These helmets were made from cast iron, copper or bronze and were used by biologists, researchers and artists.
The open helmets stayed in use at several places, for instance at the US Navy, where this helmet became it’s nick name: the shallow water helmet. You probably wonder how this nick name started. By that time the US Navy used the heavy Mark V helmet which consisted of the diving helmet, suit, shoes and weights. This suit was often referred to as deep sea diving suit. It was ideal for diving in deep and cold waters. When a diver had a short diving job, for instance in a dry dock, the divers often used only the helmet and not the whole diving suit. Mostly this was in clear, warm and shallow waters. That’s how the name shallow water helmet was developed.
During the 40’s and 50’s, new diving equipment became available; scuba gear. First for military and commercial use, in the 60’s it became available for everybody. This equipment conquered the diving scene, once again pushing the open helmet aside. The development of new materials like composite and glass fibre were the replacement for copper, cast iron and bronze. New manufacturers like Kirby Morgan conquered the military and commercial markets. Divers using the good old metal diving helmets became a curiosity. And when items become a curiosity, people start collecting it……
Here are some pictures of the most known shallow water diving helmets.
Snead style III
The Snead factory was located in Jersey City, New Jersey. Helmets were made between the beginning op 1900 until 1940. In total, 4 different styles were made. Style one was cast in two pieces. This style is recognisable by it’s screws on the flange. The second style has a flange also, but no screws. Both had a large faceplate and an air inlet on top of this faceplate. These helmets had a weight of approximate 56 pounds. The company tag reads: SNEAD.CO. JERSEY CITY N.J. PATT. PENDING. The third style has no flanges at all and the faceplate was much smaller than the style 1 and 2. The air intake was placed on top of the helmet, behind the handle bar. This helmet was slightly heavier: approximate 62 pounds. The company tag is the same as the style 1 and 2, except there is only one T in PATT. Style 1, 2 and 3 were made from cast iron. Style four was made from bronze with a weight of approximate 70 pounds. It has the same tag as in style 3. It is known that there are reproductions made of this fourth style so I you are offered one, contact a professional. See also the note at the end of this article.
Miller Dunn No II Miller Dunn No III
The Miller Dunn company was located in Miami, Florida. The company started in 1915 with the No 1 Divinhood helmet. It was made from copper and required lead weights. The helmet was fitted with a round faceplate. The tag was stamped in both sides of the helmet: Dunn Divinghood Co. US Pat. August 1916 Foreign Pats. Pending Miller-Dunn CO. Miami, Fl.
The No 2 Divinhood was developed in 1927. This helmet is very easy to recognize because of the shape of the window: two narrow glass windows were mounted vertically on the helmet. Like the No 1, the No 2 (and also No 3) were all made of copper with lead weights. The No 1 and No 2 helmet became one of the shallow water helmets that were used on many US Navy vessels.
The No 3 Divinhood was developed just before 1940. This helmet had a large window with its recognisable guards. In contrary with No 1 and No 2, the No 3 helmet had two side ports and a top port. It was also made of copper and needed lead weights to get a negative buoyancy. The tag on the No 3 helmet shows it’s use in the US navy: DIVINHOOD STYLE 3 Navy Standard US #1195793-1595908 and foreign patents Miller-Dunn Co. Miami, Fla.
Miller Dunn also made shallow water diving pumps. See the picture for details.
The Desco (Diving Equipment Supply Company) helmets were made in Milwaukee Wisconsin. DESCO was founded in 1937 as the Diving Equipment and Salvage COmpany but changed names in late 1945. The Desco helmets ware made of a cast bronze corselet and a copper top, welded together. The helmet has a recognisable shape and were made in a one and 4 window version. DESCO still produces diving helmets and other equipment. For more information, see www.divedesco.com It shows many photo’s and lots of information.
Schrader is one of the oldest diving manufacturers, they started around 1850 with the production of diving helmets in Brooklyn N.Y. The most important diving helmet was off course the Mark V standard diving set, but they also manufactured the shallow water hat with the distinctive round window. This enables the user to look through a big window, but the round shape creates distortion, which could be unpleasant. The helmet is made from copper and uses lead weights to submerge. The company tag reads: Schraders and Sons inc. Diving apparatus. Brooklyn N.Y. U.S.A.
Morse is the oldest diving manufacturer, the company started in 1837 and during the 1860’s Morse started making diving equipment. In 1916 Morse started, as first diving helmet manufacturer, with the production of the Mk V helmet. Later, they also produced the No 15 shallow water diving helmet from the 1930’s. This helmet has the same design as the Schrader shallow water hat. The No 15 helmet is also made of copper and uses lead to submerge. The US Navy has used this helmet as standard helmet for shallow water diving. The tag reads: Morse diving equipment company inc Boston Mass. U.S.A. The website is www.morsediving.com, the company is now based in Rockland MA. Beside the helmets, Morse also made tow diving pumps, the no 4 and no 15 diving pump.
And here’s a new collector’s item:
The Dutch Diving Helmet.
Model 1 front Model 1 side
Dutch Diving Helmets started producing helmets in 2002. The company is located in The Netherlands and is the only company worldwide that produces cast bronze shallow water helmets. The Dutch Diving Helmet is made of cast bronze and weights about 24 kg. Lead weights are not needed. The helmet is ergonomically shaped, it fits like a glove. There are tow models, of which one has a slightly different shape and size.
Large model front Large model side
Beside these two styles, DDH produces also one of a kind helmets as special product.
The tag shows a small DDH in profile and around it the name of the company. Each helmet is numbered. The DDH manual was adopted by PADI as a distinctive specialty under the name “PADI’s Underwater Walk”. The Underwater Walk is positioned beside the Discover Scuba. This means that every tourist can start an underwater walk under the supervision of a PADI specialty instructor. DDH is proud to be the first company that achieved an approval of the market leader in diving education. The Historical Diving Times, number 34, page 55, writes about the DDH: ….on what is surely going to become a collector’s item possibly now and definitely in the future….
At present time, the DDH has found its way to several collectors worldwide. The DDH is also in use in The Netherlands, England, Germany, France and The Caribbean.
Fraud! At present time, there are a lot of possibilities to buy a diving helmet. For example Ebay and other auctions. Each of these companies do their best to prevent fraud. Nevertheless it has occurred that persons enter an auction under false identity and with copied pictures from helmets they don’t posses. Mostly a sale ends with the question to pay before delivery and because of this worldwide market, a visit to see the bought article is not always possible. It happened that people bought a diving helmet, paid good money, and never received an item or received a false item. Despite the frequent warnings and safety procedures, this still happens. To avoid unpleasant situations contact a professional or do some research on several diving helmet related websites.