June 14, 1834: Leonard Norcross of Dixfield patents a diving suit made of rubber with a metal helmet attached to it with a watertight seal.

Norcross (1798-1865) experimented with the suit in the Webb River in Oxford County. A set of bellows provided an air supply to the helmet through a hose. The test diver’s boots were filled with lead shot to offset buoyancy. He was able to walk on the riverbed comfortably and remained relatively dry.

Other diving suits had been invented, but the Norcross suit was different in that its rubber composition allowed the diver to move about freely and bend over, or even lie down underwater.

Norcross apparently was happy with the result; he named his son “Submarinus.”

Hardly a one-trick pony, Norcross, born in Readfield, also was a millwright and a mechanic. He invented a threshing and separating machine, a nail-making machine, an accelerated wool spinner and a stump lifter. He also lectured on astronomy and temperance and was a Gospel preacher.

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Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: jowen@mainetoday.com.

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