Friday, August 17, 2012

Iron Mike


One of the museum’s most popular items is the one atmosphere diving suit known as Iron Mike. But who is this lovable steel giant?  What can he do?  What has he done in his lifetime? Find out the answers to these questions and more in this blog!

Who Is Iron Mike?

Interestingly, Iron Mike wasn’t actually called “Iron Mike” when he was first patented.  Thomas Patrick (‘T.P.’) Connelly, inventor and president of the Empire Marine Salvage and Engineering Company, had dubbed the 675-pound steel diving suit “Eleanor” when it was first patented in 1935.[1]  It wasn’t until a few years later that “Eleanor” came to be known as “Iron Mike”.

Connelly designed Iron Mike to be able to be constantly submerged at depths of several hundred feet for approximately four hours before needing to resurface and restock on supplies, such as air.  Iron Mike’s steel body is also designed so that even at great depths the suit will remain upright.  The diver inside the suit may bend over by throwing his weight to one side, but as soon as he lets up on the pressure, Iron Mike will stand straight up again.[2]  In the open air Iron Mike’s copper arms and legs move with great difficulty.  But as the water pressure increases the further down Iron Mike is submerged in water, the arms and legs become more flexible and allow for fairly free movement for the diver.[3]

 Iron Mike was the first deep sea diving suit of his time to open at the waist.  The claw-like hands of Iron Mike have levers inside the arms for the diver to operate.  They have individual digits that allow for them to grasp even delicate materials with precision and care.[4] Iron Mike’s arms and head are equipped with high-powered underwater lights, which use a total of 7,000 watts of energy, to illuminate the dark waters so the diver inside can see outside the suit.[5] 

There is no hose to connect Iron Mike to an air pump on the surface.  Instead, the inside of Iron Mike is equipped with an oxygen tank as well as a bottle of soda lime, or some other material, which absorbs carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses that people exhale.[6] 


There are also gauges in the suit that the diver can easily read to determine the pressure in the suit and the oxygen tank.  Although there is no hose to connect the surface to Iron Mike for air supply, the inside of the suit is equipped with so-called “phones” for communication, which would be connected to the supply ship on the surface to the diving suit by a cable.[7]  This cable is delicate and could not be used to lower Iron Mike into or raise him from the water, however.  Instead, there is an attachment on top of his head that a strong, reinforced 2,000 foot cable would be hooked to and operated from the supply ship.[8]



What Has Iron Mike Done?

In September of 1934, T.P. Connelly and the Empire Marine Salvage and Engineering Company sent diver Roy Hansen inside Iron Mike down to search for the Hussar, a British ship said to have sunk in the East River near the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City in 1780.  The frigate has been claimed to hold 2-4 million dollars in gold and silver.  However, a month into the investigation, Iron Mike and the Empire Marine Salvage and Engineering Corporation were pulled from the waters because Simon Lake, the inventor of the submarine, had apparently bought the rights to dive for the Hussar a couple years before and did not want anyone else to find the ship.[9]  Unfortunately for Mr. Lake, the Hussar has yet to be found to this day and still remains a mystery to divers from all over the world.


In 1936 Roy Hansen and Iron Mike had a little bit more success.  The frigate Merida, reportedly carrying between 4 million and 26 million dollars in gold and silver bullion as well as the crown jewels of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian, had been struck by the Admiral Farragut and sunk off the Virginia Capes in 1911 down to a depth of 250 feet.[10]  Iron Mike was sent down in August of 1936 to try to bring up some of the treasure lost on the Merida, and was successful in salvaging part of the ship,[11] although ultimately the expedition failed to salvage much of anything valuable.[12]
In a flooded quarry near Pen Argyl, a landlocked town in eastern Pennsylvania, a 13-year-old boy drowned in early September of 1936.  Iron Mike, according to a claim made by diver Roy Hansen, dove down to a “record” depth of 510 feet in the quarry in order to retrieve the boy’s body from the water.  Only a few other diving suits, all of which were foreign-made, had recorded dives as deep as that made by Iron Mike.  Iron Mike was the first American-made one atmosphere diving suit to reach that depth as of his 1936 dive.[13]
These are only a few of the features and highlights of the life of Iron Mike found only in the History of Diving Museum!   Come on by to meet this noteworthy iron suit!


[1] Hussar October 13, 1934, The New Yorker, pg 22; see also Gold at Hell Gate October 8, 1934, Time Magazine
[2] Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 4
[3] Gold at Hell Gate October 8, 1934, Time Magazine; see also Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 5, 6
[4] Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 4, 5
[5] Revolutionary Treasure to be Sought in New York October 20, 1934, The Science News-Letter, Vol. 26, No. 706,  pg 254; see also Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 5
[6] Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 4
[7] Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 4-5
[8]  Gold at Hell Gate October 8, 1934, Time Magazine; see also Connelly, Thomas Patrick Deep Sea Diving Suit Patent 2,018,511 October 22, 1935 (application date July 6, 1934), pg 4, 6
[9] Revolutionary Treasure to be Sought in New York October 20, 1934, The Science News-Letter, Vol. 26, No. 706,  pg 254; see also Hussar October 13, 1934, The New Yorker, pg 22; see also East River Gold Seekers Ordered to Abandon Jobs October 15, 1934, The Milwaukee Journal
[10] Merida Passengers Tell of Her Loss May 14, 1911, The New York Times
[11] Ship Sails to Hunt Lost Crown Gems August 21, 1936, The New York Times
[12] Mills, Charles A. 1984, Treasure Legends of Virginia, Apple Cheeks Press: Alexandria, VA, pg. 78
[13] Record Deep Dive Claimed by Commercial Diver October 3, 1936, The Science News-Letter, Vol. 30, No. 808, pg 217; see also Makes Record Dive Bangor, PA September 18, 1936, El Paso Herald Post

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