Ship Name



Deep ocean diving apparatus


United States


All Eras

Year Launched


Home Waters

Atlantic Ocean



Displacement (tons)


Primary Propulsion






Historical Note

In the late 1920s, the New York Zoological Society began a concentrated study of the ocean depths nine miles off the coast of Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, in 32 12N, 64 36W. Disappointed with the meager returns from deep-sea trawls, Dr. William Beebe sought to develop a way of observing the deep firsthand. Because pressure increases by 14.7 pounds per square inch for every 33 feet in depth, the observation platform had to be strong, compact, and round, to distribute the pressure evenly. With the help of Otis Barton, a bathysphere (from the Greek for "deep sphere") was built in 1929. It proved too heavy for the tender, Ready, and a second was completed in 1930. With a skin 1.5 inches thick and two 8-inch-wide fused-quartz observation windows, the two-man observation ball was attached to a cable and lowered from the tender. A second cable provided electricity and a telephone connection to the surface. Oxygen was supplied by two cylinders, and carbon dioxide and moisture were absorbed by trays of soda lime and calcium chloride, respectively. The first descent was made on June 6, 1930, to a depth of 800 feet. Five days later Bathysphere went down to 1,426 feet, and on August 15, 1934, reached 3,028 feet, the extreme limit of the tether. (The previous record depths were 383 feet for a submarine and 525 feet for an armored suited diver on a Bavarian lake.) However, record depths were only incidental to the work at hand. "Every descent and ascent of the bathysphere," wrote Beebe, "showed a fauna, rich beyond what the summary of all our 1,500 [sampling] nets would lead us to expect." In addition to discovering and photographing weird and hitherto unknown species of eels, lanternfish, squid, and jellyfish, Beebe was fascinated by the amount of light generated by animals in the deep, especially beyond 1,700 feet, the absolute limit to which sunlight penetrated. The last dives in the Bathysphere were completed in 1934, and comparable depths were not attained until after World War II, when August Picard developed the first self-propelled bathyscaph ("deep boat"), Trieste. Paine, Ships of the World.

Related Images

external image beebe_bathysphere.gif
Beebe Bathysphere
Image Id: 1287 I

Related People

Beebe, William Barton, Otis