Celebrity Invention: Harry Houdini's Diving Suit

patentsrichfamous_280(2).jpgSome celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: Harry Houdini

Known For: Harry Houdini was one of the greatest entertainers of all time. While we have David Blaine and his days-long stunts, Houdini was escaping impossible situations more than a hundred years ago to titillate the top hat-wearing and petticoat-clad gents and ladies. Impossibly muscular and flexible, Houdini could escape from anything, even, as we see below, from a straightjacket while being suspended in the air.

While many remember him as a famous magician, more accurately, Houdini practiced escapology; he understood how to get out of things. This involved not only knowledge of human anatomy, but also of the apparatuses in which he encased his hunky figure.

Given that Houdini mastered escaping deadly situations, it makes sense that he would share his expertise with America, patenting a device which might prove helpful for those less skilled in escapology during a risky situation.

Invented Apparatus: "Diver's suit"

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The master escapist created a diving suit which the wearer could easily remove while submerged underwater. The suit's design includes separate upper and lower sections connected by a lever-operated metallic belt, allowing the diver to more easily escape, unaided, while submerged.

The lower section having means to allow the diver when submerged to step out of the lower section, and the upper section having means to allow the diver when submerged to draw the upper portion of his body out of this upper section, and instantaneously operably releasing an automatic separable means at the said overlapping ends the said means having exterior actuating devices under the control of the encased diver to permit the latter when submerged.

Rationale Behind Invention: Master escape artists think things through. Houdini created his suit to help divers avoid death by any means. And obviously, it might come in handy for underwater tricks.

Its object is to provide a new and improved diver's suit arranged to permit the diver, in case of danger for any cause whatever, to quickly divest himself of the suit while being submerged and to safely escape and reach the surface of the water. Another object is to enable the diver to put on or take off the suit without requiring assistance. Another object is to prevent the diver when submerged from being crushed by the pressure of the surrounding water in case the air supply gives out or the air line becomes fouled for any cause. A further object is to enable the diver to go quickly down to a greater depth and to readily rise therefrom without consuming as much time in effecting a "compressing or a decompressing action" as now required and practiced.

That's right, his suit not only allows self sufficient easy escape, preventing drowning, it also counteracts underwater pressure, preventing that kind of death too.

Off Label Uses: This diving suit has three possible uses: underwater stripping, Steve Zisou costume prop, or a combination of the two.

Future Directions: Kenneth Silverman's Houdini biography attributes the magician's death to a punch to the stomach. While this invention addresses every possible danger while submerged, it doesn't protect from possible underwater punches -- or other attacks. Like shark bites. Insulate the suit with body armor or this shark-resistant chain mail.

Peruse more celebrity inventions.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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