Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exhibit Talk: Transforming the South Florida Room

Our team has been hard at work on transforming one of our most popular exhibits, The South Florida Room, so I wanted to give an update on the amazing progress that has been made in the past few months.

Some of my favorite helmets in our collection can be found in the South Florida Room. The exhibit centers on the Divinhood - the world's first commercially produced open bottom helmet which unquestionably changed diving history. The story of William Miller and William Dunn's Divinhood is a great one - but it is our collection of homemade helmets (inspired by the open bottom concept the Divinhood introduced) that seem to be some of the most popular and memorable artifacts, both for our staff as well as our visitors.

Above is one of our more famous - or infamous - helmets. Dubbed "The Rum Runner," this homemade helmet was used in the 1920's in smuggling operations during Prohibition. Contraband whiskey dropped in the Detroit River by Canadians was spotted through the breastplate window.

The concept of the open bottom helmet was so simple and useful, that craftsmen in garages started using household items to build their own version of the Divinhood. What they produced were many oddly shaped helmets, each truly one-of-a-kind.

Our curator of exhibits, Tim Hemsoth, is finishing this newly constructed wall as I type and it's looking really fabulous. As you can see from the "Before" and "After" photos, Tim has created a "forest" of helmets from floor to ceiling, backlit with a blue spotlight. Enjoy the photos and below and let us know what you think!



As a result of redesigning the floor plan in the South Florida Room, we'll also be making some changes to our Underwater Photography exhibit and the Treasure Room in the near future. Below you can see we've taken a wall down to open up the entrance to the Treasure Room and create a better traffic flow.

Hope you've enjoyed seeing all the updates. Stay tuned for more!

Manager of Collections and Administration

All photos courtesy of the History of Diving Museum

Friday, November 4, 2011

Henry Fleuss: An Early SCUBA Pioneer

Henry Fleuss (1851-1933) was a diving engineer for Siebe, Gorman & Co. of London. He is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of diving and some even credit him as the first SCUBA diver. You didn't think it was Jacques Cousteau, did you?

Though he is credited with many other inventions including the Fleuss vacuum pump and a steam car, it is widely accepted that his most important was for the first self-contained breathing apparatus (SCUBA) using pure compressed oxygen. Originally designed in 1876, he was granted a patent for the apparatus in 1878 which freed the diver from having to rely on breathing surface-supplied air.

The apparatus consisted of a rubber mask, a breathing bag, a copper tank to hold the oxygen, and a scrubber. The closed-circuit system was designed to reuse the oxygen by removing the carbon dioxide using a rope yarn soaked in a solution of caustic potash. Originally used to rescue mine workers, Fleuss was lauded for this early SCUBA apparatus.

Its revolutionary and brilliant design became an invaluable piece of equipment for military operations during WWII. The Fleuss rebreather came to be preferred over all other available diving apparatus because it offered the diver total concealment (no air bubbles!).

Although the Fleuss rebreather limited the diver's working depth due to the threat of oxygen toxicity, it was truly revolutionary and is without a doubt a very important part of diving history.

Visit the Museum to learn more about early rebreathers and the evolution of other early SCUBA equipment!

Manager of Collections and Administration