The Heroic Age of Diving

America's Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie

By Jerry Kuntz

Subjects: History, Science And Technology, Sports And Society
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438459622, 224 pages, April 2016

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Table of contents

Principal Figures in The Heroic Age of Diving


1. Submarine Armor (1820s–1840)

2. An Awful Calamity (1841–1844)

3. End of the Taylors (1840s–1850)

4. The Marine Engineers (1840s–1852)

5. The City of Oswego (July 1852)

6. Without Armor and With Armor (July 1852)

7. Mr. Wells’s Safe (August–October 1852)

8. The Erie Jinx (1853)

Gallery of photos
9. Harrington and the Diving Boat (October 1853–Spring 1854)

10. Boston Bliss (1854–July 1855)

11. Race to the Atlantic (August–December 1855)

12. The Safe Recovered (1856)

13. The Moving Panorama (1857–1860)

14. War (1861–1865)

15. Ends (1866–1879)


Afterword: Envoi (1871–1891)


A comprehensive history of the first three decades of underwater exploration in antebellum America.


Winner of the 2016 Dr. Art Bachrach Literary Award presented by the Historical Diving Society

Silver Medalist, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Sports/Fitness/Recreation Category

Beginning in 1837, some of the most brilliant engineers of America's Industrial Revolution turned their attention to undersea technology. Inventors developed practical hard-helmet diving suits, as well as new designs of submarines, diving bells, floating cranes, and undersea explosives. These innovations were used to clear shipping lanes, harvest pearls, mine gold, and wage war. All of these underwater technologies were brought together by entrepreneurs, treasure-hunters, and daring divers in the 1850s to salvage three infamous shipwrecks on Lake Erie, each of which had involved the loss of hundreds of lives, as well as the worldly goods of the passengers. The prospect of treasure, combined with the national notoriety of these disasters, soon attracted the attention of local adventurers and the country's leading divers and marine engineers. In The Heroic Age of Diving, Jerry Kuntz shares the fascinating stories of the pioneers of underwater invention and the brave divers who employed the new technologies as they raced with—and against—marine engineers to salvage the tragic wrecks of Lake Erie.

Jerry Kuntz is an electronic resources consultant and the author of Minnesota's Notorious Nellie King: Wild Woman of the Closed Frontier.


"…Jerry Kuntz combines elements of technological, business, and environmental histories to produce a fascinating work that details the origins of American maritime engineering and salvage during the transition away from free-diving in the nineteenth century. " — New York History

"…a very interesting book. " — PowerShips

"Kuntz's book is amply illustrated with images of the divers, early diving equipment, and salvage methods, as well as the ship wreckage that challenged the skills of the engineers and divers. The notes and bibliography are quite satisfactory and will be of value to other researchers of the history of diving and the wrecks covered in the book. " — Naval History

"The strength of the book is how masterfully, and with extensive research, Kuntz has filled in the gaps and constructed a powerful narrative … an insightful tour of human interactions in an evolving frontier of lake and ocean depths, interrelationships, and the costs that come with adopting new technologies, especially in fields driven by jealousy, competition, and personal need. " — H-Net Reviews (H-Environment)

"A comprehensive, informative, impressively researched and exceptionally well written history of the first three decades of underwater exploration in antebellum America. " — Midwest Book Review

"Jerry Kuntz has filled in a previously blank page in the story of diving—and done it well. The Heroic Age of Diving tells the story not only of the development of salvage technology but also the human side of this always-dangerous and often-deadly career. This is not a tale for the faint of heart ('helmet squeeze' is a gruesome fate), but one well worth reading for those interested in early technology and the men brave (or foolish) enough to gamble their lives using it. This book is a window on an unexplored (and unexpected) world, and the author deserves great credit for bringing it back into the light. " — Chuck Veit, author of Raising Missouri: John Gowen and the Salvage of the U. S. Steam Frigate Missouri, 1843–1852

"The Heroic Age of Diving is both very interesting and very important. Having spent over twenty years researching and publishing general diving history, I am confident that this book will fill an important gap in the nation's diving history. " — Leslie Leaney, Cofounder, Historical Diving Society