1839 Augustus Siebe inventor of the ‘closed diving dress’

Christian Augustus Siebe was a German-educated inventor and gifted engineer who emigrated to London and founded his own company in 1819. Augustus Siebe had the engineering skills to build helmets for the Deane brothers (see chapter: ‘1836 Deane’). He improved upon the basic design of the Deane helmet using 12 equally spaced bolts and brass-straps to provide a watertight connection to a diving suit. He also engineered a neck ring with an ‘interrupted’ thread which made it possible to separate the bonnet from the breastplate quickly and easily. These improvements brought A.Siebe worldwide recognition as the engineer who invented, developed and manufactured the flexible ‘closed’ diving dress. The initial Deane helmet was little more than an open ‘bucket‘ carried on the divers shoulders which would flood with water when the diver bent over to far. However, after A.Siebe’s final improvements it was impossible for water to enter the helmet ‘dress’ no matter what position the diver assumed.

Recently there has been some speculation and argument among British diving historians as to whether Augustus Siebe can be credited completely with the invention of the ‘closed’ dress diving apparatus. However, as there is little documentary evidence to the contrary and given what I know from my archive, I will leave the credit of invention with Augustus Siebe, unless more evidence is found.

The evolution of the ‘Siebe Gorman’ helmet, the Deane design

Augustus Siebe signed his diving apparatus using his shortened name: ‘A. SIEBE’. The photographs above show a genuine A.Siebe helmet. (From the collection of Leon Lyons, St Augustine FL USA). Photographs David L.Dekker

Augustus Siebe founded his company in 1819 and produced several different products before manufacturing his first diving apparatus. The first helmet he made was of the Deane design (see the Deane chapter)

1839. The Augustus Siebe ‘closed’ helmet, 12 bolt design

I have no records about early Augustus Siebe helmets being imported in the Netherlands but it is certain that helmets of his design were imported and used in Holland later in the 19th century (perhaps even after the death of Augustus Siebe in 1872). The name of his company changed two years before his death from ‘A.Siebe’, to ‘Siebe & Gorman’ (1870), then to ‘Siebe, Gorman & Co.’ (1880) and finally in 1904 to ‘Siebe, Gorman & Co Ltd’.

Above left: Augustus Siebe as shown on the title page of several editions of ‘Deep Diving and Submarine Operations’ by Siebe Gorman Director Robert H. Davis. Above right: Augustus Siebe posing at a painting. This painting is now in the Science Museum in London

Augustus Siebe’s first ‘close’ diving helmet of 1839. The helmet was donated the Science Museum (London) by his son-in-law, William A. Gorman. William A. Gorman and Henry H. Siebe (Augustus Siebe’s only surviving son) took over the company in 1870, two years before Augustus Siebe died. Litho: David L.Dekker collection

An illustration from the ‘London Illustrated News’ of November 24, 1855 showing A.Siebe’s ‘Improved Diving Dress’ next to an article about a demonstration of several new inventions for the Emperor Napoleon in Paris. Also demonstrated next to A.Siebe’s apparatus is diving apparatus from Heinke and Cabirol. Original newspaper, David L.Dekker collection.

Augustus Siebe improved the design of the Deane helmet in several ways. A threaded front-window could be screwed into place and easily removed from the front of the helmet. Between the bonnet (helmet) and the breastplate, rings were incorporated using an ‘interrupted’ thread which made it possible to easily separate the bonnet from the breastplate. Finally, Siebe re-designed the ‘open’ dress apparatus into a ‘close’ dress apparatus by using brass straps on the edge of the breastplate. This made it possible to clamp a suit to the helmet, thus providing a water tight connection (see picture above). The diver could now stay dry in any position, even upside-down.


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