Ocean Exploration Timeline Title

1601 - 1800



First Submarine

Dutch physician Cornelis Drebbel builds the world's first submarine. The boat is made of wood reinforced with iron and covered with leather. Inside, 12 oarsmen are seated six on each side. They row with oars that stick out the sides through tight fitting leather sleeves to keep the water out. Drebbel makes several trips in his submarine in the Thames River near London at a depth of about 12 to 15 feet.



First Air-replenished Diving Bell

The English astronomer Edmund Halley develops a diving bell in which the atmosphere in the bell can be replenished by sending weighted barrels of air down from the surface.


Voyage of Edmund Halley

English astronomer Edmund Halley makes what may be the first scientific voyage to study the variation of the magnetic compass. During his voyages, he also makes important contributions to the understanding of the trade winds.



First Waterproof Suit

Chevalier de Beauve, a guard in the French Navy, develops a waterproof suit with lead shoes. Air is supplied from the surface by two leather tubes fastened to the helmet.


First Enclosed Diving Device

Englishman John Lethbridge develops a completely enclosed, one-man diving dress. The device is made from a reinforced, leather-covered barrel of air, equipped with a glass porthole for viewing, and two arm holes with watertight sleeves.


August 26, 1768

First Voyage of Endeavour

Lieutenant James Cook leaves the port of Plymouth, England on a voyage to observe a transit of the planet of Venus across the Sun. During this and two voyages to follow, Cook would explore and map the Pacific Ocean. He is the first person to use a chronometer to accurately determine his longitude at sea.



First Practical Diving Helmet

The French scientist Sieur Freminet invents a helmet-hose diving apparatus, in which air is pumped from the surface with an egg-shaped reservoir. The air reaches the diver through a hose attached to the helmet. This system provides a constant supply of air to the diver. With this device, Freminet is able to stay submerged at a depth of 16 meters for up to 1 hour.



Franklin's Sundry Maritime Observations

American patriot and inventor Benjamin Franklin writes a lengthy letter to a scientific colleague in France. Known as his Sundry Maritime Observations, the letter announces the discovery of the Gulf Stream and touches on a wide range of maritime subjects such as ship propulsion methods, hull design, and causes of disasters at sea.


Improved Diving Bell

American John Smeaton incorporates several improvements to the diving bell. He builds the bell made from cast iron and is the first to use an efficient hand-operated pump to sustain the air supply via a hose. An air reservoir system and nonreturn valves to keep air from being sucked back up the hoses when the pump stops.



First Diving Suit

German mechanic Karl Heinrich Klingert creates a device that is the first to be called a "diving suit”. It consists of a jacket and trousers made of waterproof leather, a helmet with a porthole, and a metal front. It is linked to a turret with an air reservoir. The reservoir cannot replenish itself, so the suit has a limited dive time duration.



The Nautilus

Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, builds an early submarine called The Nautilus. This cigar-shaped craft is made of wood over iron plates, and uses a horizontal rudder to control the up-and-down movement of the submarine. This rudder system is still in use today.