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The Undersea Adventure Inventions of John Ernest and Charles Williamson

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

by Csikszentmihalyi Aeiou, Improbable Research staff

Undersea pleasure can be had from either of two devices invented by Charles Williamson and his son John Ernest Williamson. But new levels of pleasure are likely to arise submarinally if the two inventions are used in combination.

Charles created an easy means for viewing — that is, it provides a place from which underwater views can be had by an ordinary person who need not trouble to wear any special diving suit. Details are in his patent: “Submarine Pleasure Apparatus,” U.S. patent 1016808, issued Feb 6, 1912, to Charles Williamson. The document explains:

The submarine pleasure apparatus of my invention consists of a submergible caisson at the bottom of which is provided a chamber of suitable dimensions equipped with observation windows placed at angles to the horizontal and vertical in such a manner that objects on the bottom and above the bottom of the body of water can be readily viewed through them. In its most highly developed form this pleasure apparatus is supported from afloat at its upper end, and provided with means for entrance to and exit from the submarine chamber, this means taking the form of elevators and trackways for transportation to suitably arranged openings, the track-ways, as well as the elevators being arranged in caissons communicating with the observation chamber, and in several embodiments of my invention forming a circuit of ways, such that persons may be transported from a given point down into the observation chamber beneath the water by a certain route and returned to the surface of the water and to the given point by another certain route, after having visited the observation chamber....

[Fig. 3 shows the] apparatus supported from the end of a pier... I close the top of the caisson 10 with a head 30 and lower it below the surface of the water when not in use, allowing the entire weight of the apparatus to rest upon the bottom.... In use as a pleasure apparatus an elevator indicated at 29 is provided for carrying passengers to and from the chamber 12.... observation windows 23 are provided, some in a vertical plane, and others above and below the vertical windows in planes at an angle to the vertical....

[My invention in one of its most highly developed forms [has] the submergible caisson and observation chamber attached to a float and provided with caisson passage-ways to the shore; Fig. 8 is a view of the same apparatus stored away beneath the surface of the water when not in use.

For creating lively, surprising sights worth viewing from a submarine pleasure apparatus, John Ernest eventually invented a special apparatus — one that might be thought of as an underwater quasimechanical outer garment:

“Art of Producing Lifelike Simulations to Inanimate Objects,” U.S. patent 1378641, issued May 17, 1921, to John Ernest Williamson. The document explains the basic intended use:

This invention relates to apparatus for producing life-like simulations to inanimate objects, and more particularly to apparatus designed to simulate the movements of under-water creatures.

Movements of many of the under-water creatures are sinuous or squirming in character — as for instance, the movements of an eel — while others have members such for instance, as tentacles which have movements of this type although the creature itself may be stationary. For instance, creatures of the mollusk type, such as the octopus, the squid, etc., illustrate the latter type.

The present invention is designed for the purpose of more or less accurately simulating the motions of these creatures... For instance, the general principles of the invention may be employed in producing an apparatus having the appearance of a sea serpent, so that by locating the apparatus at a suitable point where close inspection can be prevented and the apparatus be operated to give movements which appear life-like, the illusion can not well be detected. Or the apparatus may be in the form of an octopus with its several tentacles, the latter being given movements simulating the movements which the tentacles have in the creature itself….

The document spells out the nature of the important components:

For the purpose of illustrating the general principles of the invention, I have shown the apparatus as in the form of an octopus having a head and body and a plurality of tentacles, these parts preferably having the general contour and appearance of the creature itself....

The head l0 and body 11 are preferably in the form of a shell molded or otherwise formed to simulate these parts of the octopus. The shell is preferably formed with an open bottom through which the tentacle and certain operating elements are led.

The shell is adapted to receive the operator, the head preferably being formed with a hinged portion which can be raised to permit the entrance of the operator. As the apparatus is designed to be operated underwater, the operator preferably wears a divers suit, and, for the purpose of increasing the illusion, the suit is preferably of the self-contained type... thus eliminating the necessity of hiding the escape of air bubbles from the head of the octopus....

The shell carries a plurality of independent members or casings which have the contour and appearance of tentacles, each tentacle, indicated at 12, being secured to the shell at its inner end by suitable means such as straps 13 secured to the shell....

Each tentacle is built up in the form of a composite structure designed to provide the various movements.


The article above is from the September-October 2015 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues in pdf form for only $25 a year! Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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