The 'closed' diving helmet revolutionised diving by allowing the diver to remain underwater for longer and to dive deeper. Many of the great engineering projects of the Victorian era could not have been carried out without the work of divers, and they could not have done their work without the 'closed' helmet.
It was invented by a German, Augustus Siebe, who lived and worked in Denmark Street, WC2 for nearly half a century. Siebe was born in Prussia in 1788 and had served as an artillery officer in the Prussian army against Napoleon, being wounded at the Battle of Lepzig in 1813. After the defeat of Napoleon he worked as a watchmaker before moving to London in the year after Waterloo.
After living first in High Holborn, Siebe moved to Denmark Street in 1828 and it was there, twelve years later, that he designed his revolutionary 'closed' helmet. One of the first opportunities to show how effective Siebe's new helmet was came in the 1840s when divers descended into the waters off Spithead to investigate the wreck of the Royal George, a ship which had sunk there sixty years earlier. The helmet proved so successful that the same basic design was being used by the Royal Navy more than a century later.
A man of great ingenuity and inventiveness, Siebe created many other machines at his workshop in Denmark Street, including a weighing machine, a paper-making machine and an ice-making machine. At the Great Exhibition of 1851, he won several medals for his inventions. Augustus Siebe died in 1872 but the company he created, Siebe Gorman, survived until the 1990s.
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