The Bahamas Post Office is delighted to mark the 75th Anniversary of the World's first undersea Post Office and to pay tribute to the pioneering work of John Ernest ("J.E.") Williamson (1881-1966), whose underwater photography drew mass attention to the beautiful and precious natural resources around the Bahamas.
Williamson's father, Charles Williamson of Norfolk, Virginia, was a sea captain who had invented a tube, which, when suspended from a specially outfitted ship, facilitated communication and airflow down to depths of 250 feet. When attached to a diving apparatus, this could assist in repair and salvage work. In 1912 Williamson realized that his father's invention could be adapted for undersea photography. Using a light hung from the mother ship, artificially illuminated photographs of the depths of Chesapeake Bay taken in 1913 produced such captivating results that he was inspired to attempt motion pictures.
His first feature was known as the "Williamson Submarine Expedition" and was ingeniously called Thirty Leagues under the Sea. The climax was Williamson's fight with a shark, which he killed with a knife while remaining within the camera's range. Released in 1914 (the New York premiere was at the American Museum of Natural History), the film demonstrated how the Bahamians depended on the ocean's ecosystem to support their own.
In 1932, a compilation called With Williamson Beneath the Sea was released, revealing the scientific uses of the Photosphere, and featuring his undersea family. This film has been restored by the Library of Congress, USA.
In 1939, Williamson conducted The Bahamas-Williamson Undersea Expedition bearing the Explorers Club flag number 97, to film underwater for scientific purposes. It was in connection with this expedition that the Government of The Bahamas authorised the Photosphere to become the world's first undersea post office, officially named "Sea Floor Bahamas".
Visitors to the Photosphere and the Sea Floor Post Office included the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, who proclaimed it the most wonderful experience of his life and the Royal Governor of The Bahamas, H.R.H Edward, Duke of Windsor. Such was the excitement of the opening that it was believed that as many as 100 million people would have seen it on newsreels at cinemas around the world! The photosphere has previously featured on postage stamps from Bahamas, Monaco, Turks and Caicos Is. and Palau.