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Wonders of the Deep, the birth of an idea, exploring the ideas and impetus behind the deep-sea diving tube, originally invented by Captain Charles Williamson and subsequently developed further by his sons: Ernest and George Williamson.

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The Birth Of An Idea (continued)

As it hangs beneath a supporting vessel, the present Williamson model reminds the onlooker of an enlarged Chinese lantern. It has a length of from fifty to sixty feet, and is three feet in diameter. It sways and bends easily with the tide or with the movements of the vessel above, and its concentric iron rings stretch apart, or flatten together, in the manner of a concertina or an accordion. Without this flexibility, of course, the invention would have been of no practical value, for a long, rigid, and very heavy tube, dragged through the sea by the vessel to which it was attached, would inevitably have been torn away from the vessel by the immense leverage of the opposing mass of water.

Before explaining any further the construction and operation of this deep sea tube, it must be mentioned that Captain Williamson had no thought whatever, when he made his invention, of its being ever utilised for the purpose of obtaining submarine motion pictures. His sole object was to provide a means of descending into the sea to obtain sponges, pearls, coral, sunken treasure, and anything else that might be of commercial value or of historic interest. As a matter of fact, the Captain saw so many possible applications of his tube, each of which required separate patent protection, that several years passed by after the first model had been successfully tried before any practical results were obtained.

“Like father, like son" is a phrase we are accustomed to hear frequently, and in this particular instance heredity also endowed the sons with an inventive faculty, and they took up the work where their father left off, and were thus enabled to give the present generation a means of probing the wonders of the depths of the ocean.

One memorable summer evening, in the year 1912, Ernest Williamson, the Captain's eldest son, who was then engaged as a cartoonist and photographer on the “Virginia Pilot", happened to be in a town in Yucatan. Just as the sun was setting he was passing a tall apartment house, and the steep side of the building, seen in a golden haze, with long, slanting shadows over it, looked like a mysterious fortress under the sea. This uncommon sight immediately recalled some motion pictures he had seen of fish taken in an aquarium tank. Then, all of a sudden, an inspiration flashed through his mind. Why not utilise his father's tube as a means of taking photographs under the water?

No sooner had the possibility of the thing occurred to him than he straightway placed the proposal before the Captain, who, strange to relate, seemed to take but little interest in the suggestion, not, perhaps, at the moment realising the full significance of the idea. At any rate, he raised no objection to the proposed plan, and eventually came to the conclusion that the idea might after all be practicable. Having obtained the Captain's permission, Ernest was not long in securing the cooperation of his brother George, and the two, fired with youthful enthusiasm, and realising the enormous and valuable possibilities should the invention prove to be practicable, proceeded with ready industry to work out a new and unique method of taking submarine pictures. We must not lose sight of the fact, as the story proceeds, that nothing of the kind had ever been attempted before, and that in their endeavours the brothers were pioneers, with no previous experience or guidance on which to work. The idea was thus quite a novel one, and, if it could be turned into a concrete form, would become a unique invention.


Chinese lanterns


The Virginian Pilot

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