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Author William Beebe.
|William Charles Beebe
was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of the newspaper executive Charles
Beebe. Early in his life, he moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where he
attended high school. In 1896, he began attending Columbia University,
where he was he was heavily influenced by Henry Fairfield Osborn. In 1899,
at Osborn’s suggestion, he was appointed Curator of Ornithology for the
New York Zoological Society. In 1900, he began undertaking field research,
which eventually led to him being made the New York Zoological Society’s
Director of the Department of Tropical Research in 1919. In addition to
the United States and Canada, he eventually undertook expeditions in Trinidad,
Venezuela, Brazil and British Guiana.
Beebe wrote many popular books of his expeditions, some of which became best-sellers in the 1920s and 1930s. He was also a regular contributor to the National Geographic Magazine. The money from the sale of these books helped finance his later expeditions. He also wrote his magnificent A Monograph of the Pheasants (1918–1922), which remains the classic reference on the subject.
His interest in deep-sea exploration led, in 1929, to the development of the bathysphere, a spherical metal diving vessel, with American inventor Otis Barton who had designed and created a diving device that was a round metal sphere with two inset portholes. This device, which Beebe eventually called a "bathysphere," weighed 5,000 pounds, was four feet nine inches in diameter, and had walls that were an inch and a half thick. Inside, there was just enough room for two men to crouch tightly together. The two portholes were made of three-inch-thick fused quartz, a clear mineral that is stronger than glass. The bathysphere had an air supply, electric lights, and a telephone line for communications with the surface.
Beebe teamed up with Barton to make over 30 descents into the ocean. Their first dive was to 800 feet, a record. On June 11, 1930, they dropped to 1,426 feet. During the dive, they were connected to the surface by a cable and a telephone hookup, and millions of listeners eagerly awaited the news from a place so deep that no human being had ever been there before. As they dropped, Beebe took a position at the window, and Barton watched over the instruments and put on the earphones that allowed them to communicate with people on the surface. Beebe commented on each depth; for example, he noted at 383 feet, "We are passing the deepest submarine record," and at 600 feet, "Only dead men have sunk below this." Beebe was thrilled to write at a depth of a quarter of a mile, in the pitch-black ocean, "A luminous fish is outside the window." He later wrote, "I knew that I should never again look upon the stars without remembering their active, living counterparts swimming about in that terrific pressure." He frequently compared the exploration of the ocean deeps to that of space, and never lost his sense of wonder about being involved in such exploration.
In 1934 Beebe and Barton descended to a record depth of 3,028 feet in 1934; this record was not beaten until 1949. This dive generated a great deal of interest and publicity, but Beebe was more interested in its scientific value. Using the bathysphere, he discovered and described species of sea life that were previously unknown. Beebe also studied changes in water color resulting from the loss of surface light at greater depths. He was fascinated with the use of such technology to allow humans to penetrate places that were unreachable without it. According to Jean Ann Pollard, Beebe wrote in 1934 that one day, "a human face will peer out through a tiny window and signals will be passed back to companions, or to breathlessly waiting hosts on earth, with such sentences as: 'We are above the level of Everest,' 'Can now see the whole Atlantic coastline,' 'Clouds blot out the earth."'
However, Beebe ultimately discovered that he could learn more by wearing a diving helmet and exploring shallower water, where he would observe sea creatures in great detail. He continued his oceanographic research in Baja California and along the Pacific Coast of Central America. He was the first well-known and well-trained scientist to use helmet-diving as a part of his field research.
In 1942 the New York Zoological Society reestablished its tropical research unit in Venezuela. In 1948, Beebe bought 228 acres of land in Simla, in the Arima Valley of Trinidad, and founded a research station there. Although he officially retired from his post as director of tropical research in 1952, he worked at Simla for part of each year until his death on June 4, 1962.
A Record of Diving Among the Coral Reefs of Haiti.
G.P.Putnam's Sons, New York, London. 1928. (Top image).
Hardcover, dust jacket, 234 pages, mono plates, index.
From the Preface:
The Tenth Expedition of the Department of Tropical Research of the New York Zoological Society was made possible by generous contributions from members of the Society. Its work was carried on in the Bay of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where we studied the coral reefs and the fishes. The final results will materialize in a series of scientific papers, which, it is hoped, will add something to our knowledge of the life of the sea. These will hardly be read by the general public, hence I have chosen a few high-lights of the expedition and crystallized them into these thirteen chapters. As far as the actual experiences are concerned, any reader of this volume may duplicate them. The diving helmet, hose and pump, with which all the research was done, are as inexpensive as they are simple in operation. I have had so many inquiries as to the inception and cost and operation of a scientific expedition, that I have thought it worth while to add several appendices, giving, in brief form, the gist of this information.
Bottom image - Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1928 - thus the USA edition.
[ps-no dj on top, ps with dj below.]
An Account of the New York Zoological Society's First Oceanographic Expedition.
Published by G.P.Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1926. (Five printings within 1926).
Hardcover, 432 pages, colour plates, mono photographs.
The chapter, 'With Helmet and Hose' is particularly interesting to the diver, giving an excellent description of the equipment used. On the helmet purchased by the author just before departure, 'the paraphernalia accompanying it were so simple that I doubted its efficiency...'.
LIFE OF WILLIAM BEEBE, EXPLORER AND NATURALIST.
Carol Grant Gould.
Shearwater Books, USA, 2004.
Softcover (this edition - there may have been a hardcover), 446 pages, many mono photogra[hs, bibliography, notes, index.
What a remarkable man. We (as divers) know him as an oceanographer who developed a bathysphere (did he coin the word?) With Otis Barton to explore the ocean depths. Insatiably curious about the natural world, William Beebe (I 877 1962) was a groundbreaking scientist, dauntless explorer, best-selling author, and international celebrity. He was also mentor to a new generation of scientists striving to understand the complex web of nature. His accomplishments and adventures
spring to life in this absorbin biography the first based on Beebe's newly released journals and letters. The author has written about science and scientists for publications ranging from The New
York Times to Psychology Today and Harper's. She is coauthor of Biological Science, The Honey Bee, Sexual Selection, and The Animal Mind.
Refer also to Otis Barton's ‘The World Beneath the Sea'. [ps]
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