oldest diving suit old gentleman

History of Hookah Diving  

History of Hookah Diving  

oldest diving suit old gentleman

History of Hookah Diving  


Diving into the history of hookah diving uncovers a fascinating journey that demonstrates humankind’s strong desire to be able to breathe and explore underwater. In this article, we look at the first innovations dating to the 18th century as well as further advancements in the hookah diving realm. We take a closer look into the details of how successes, as well as tragedies, paved the way for hookah diving, as we know it, today.    

History of Hookah Diving Gear

The history of hookah diving dates back to 1771, when British engineer John Smeaton developed an air pump. This clever device pumped air through a hose to a diving barrel, marking a significant milestone in underwater exploration. Not to be outdone, Sieur Freminet from France came up with a rebreathing device the following year, allowing divers to recycle their air within the barrel. Tragically, despite being the first self-contained breathing apparatus, its design proved fatal just 20 minutes into Freminet’s dive, highlighting the dangers of innovation without thorough research. 

Source: Musee D’Archeologie Nationale

English inventor William James rose to the challenge in 1825, determined to build upon the groundwork laid before him. Inspired by Smeaton’s work, he crafted a self-contained “belt” packed with enough air for a quick seven-minute descent. While the “belt”, made of iron and resembling a diving bell around the waist, might seem comical by today’s standards, it paved the way for further developments.  

Source: Svensk DykeriHistorisk Forening

In the same decade of 1820s, brothers Charles and John Deane, former merchant sailors, aimed to tackle fires on land and at sea. But how? By inventing a copper helmet connected by a leather hose to an air pump creating a prototype that we know today as a diving helmet.  This specific helmet, dating to the late 1820s, is the sole survivor of its kind. It not only played an important role in the global diving industry, but also transformed underwater exploration. The Deane brothers used helmets like this to retrieve artifacts from famous shipwrecks, including the Mary Rose and Royal George. 

Source: CNS International

Four decades later, during the 1860s, Captain Johan Leufstadius, a seasoned merchant and mariner (1795-1867), played a pivotal role in donating the oldest diving suit known as “The Old Gentleman’s” to the Raahe Museum in Finland. This diving suit, crafted from robust cowskin, served as a tool for inspecting ship hulls, eliminating the need for cumbersome dry docks. The crafted toes, mirroring traditional Finnish boots, and hands resembling forester’s mittens, point towards local Finnish craftsmanship, since its true origin remains unknown.  

Source: Travels in Finland and Abroad

Further evidence of Nordic origin was found in Swedish National Archives, where a 1727 sketch shows a similar suit, albeit made of metal, which could potentially be an ancestral relative of the “Old Gentleman,” separated by time and material.  In 1876, and Englishman Henry Fleuss took diving technology a step further with his closed-circuit oxygen rebreather. Initially designed for rather trivial underwater repair jobs, Fleuss’ invention held the potential to revolutionise diving. However, tragedy struck again – despite successfully completing a 9-meter-deep dive, Fleuss died of oxygen toxicity, a reminder of the inherent risks associated with pushing the boundaries of exploration. 

Source: History of Diving Museum

This historical journey through diving equipment reflects the continuous spirit of human innovation, also shaped by the harsh lessons learned from each pioneering step. While early attempts tragically claimed the lives of really brave individuals and innovators, their contributions laid the groundwork for the sophisticated hookah diving equipment we have today, allowing us to explore underwater with greater safety and more knowledge.   

Hookah Diving Now

Today, thanks to its adaptability, hookah diving has transformed into a multifaceted activity. Used by recreational divers who enjoy the freedom and affordability it offers for exploring depths and reefs without the necessity of carrying bulky gear. But hookah diving’s reach extends beyond just leisure. Marine conservationists use hookah dive systems as a means to monitor underwater ecosystems, while lobster hunters rely on its flexibility and treasure hunters utilise it for locating and recovering lost items. Hookah diving systems are particularly popular with boat owners, as well, since the compact design of this “grab and go solution” allows for quick inspection and boat maintenance, prior to any further escalation being necessary.    

Future of Hookah Diving

Hookah diving is an innovative approach to underwater exploration, which holds immense potential for the future of diving. Unlike traditional SCUBA diving, which is constrained by the limitations of physics and current technology, hookah diving contains a lot of room for improvement. With the diver connected to the surface by a hose providing air, hookah diving eliminates the need for bulky tanks on the diver’s back, allowing for greater freedom of movement and overall flexibility. This innovative method opens up new possibilities for underwater enthusiasts, researchers, and professionals alike. As technology continues to advance, there is considerable room for improvement in hookah diving equipment, making it an exciting field to watch for future developments. The ease of use and reduced equipment load could potentially make underwater exploration more accessible to a broader audience.    


In a recap, these historical milestones in hookah diving stand as reminders of a pursuit in underwater exploring and gradual understanding of the underwater environment. From the prototypes of the 18th century to the tragedies of pioneers like Henry Fleuss, the evolution of diving gear has been equally progressive as it has been challenging. Now, hookah diving has evolved into a versatile tool with a compact design and its adaptability caters not only to recreational divers but also professionals and explorers. With continuous technological advancements hookah diving is likely to continuously improve and become even more popular and accessible.  

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