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Operational Scientific Services records

 Record Group
Identifier: AC-18

Scope and Content Note

The Operational Scientific Services collection consists of administrative, contractual, technical and scientific records of Alvin and other deep submergence vehicles and equipment operations and those of other departments within the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, including the Media Relations Office, Marine Operations, and the Port Office.

The collection includes material about Aluminaut , which had been planned to be WHOI’s first submersible and Lulu , built as Alvin’s first transport ship, as well as correspondence and reports concerning the submersibles Seacliff and Turtle .

The DSV Alvin collection includes material in many formats-- correspondence, technical information, scientific data, public relations materials, and drafts of publications. It spans the period 1949 to 1998. Because of the variety of information and the expectation the collection will continue to grow, the material was grouped in series under the following headings: Administration; Committees and Policies; Scientific Data. A provenance and processing note was added to each series description to clarify how each was accessioned and processed.

Organizational Chart of the Collection

  2. Alvin Operations: Master Files
  3. Alvin Operations: Chronological Files
  4. Alvin Operations: Systems and Equipment
  5. Alvin Operations: Propulsion System
  6. Alvin Operations: Project Titanes
  7. Alvin Operations: Alvin Group, General Correspondence
  8. Alvin Operations: Alvin Group, Miscellaneous Office Files
  9. Alvin Operations: BuShips
  10. Miscellaneous Files
  11. Publications - WHOI Publications regarding Alvin
  12. Visitors Logs
  14. Requests to Use Alvin
  15. UNOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System) Review Committee
  17. Pre-Dive Checklists
  18. Dive Data, Arranged by Dive Number
  19. Surface Controller Logs
  20. Scuba Dive and Master Dive Logs
  21. Work Logs
  22. Camera Log


  • 1949-1998 (bulk 1964-1988)

Language of Materials

The records are in



Restricted: materials may only be viewed by the Office of Origin or with permission of the Archivist.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Historical Information

Operational Scientific Services (OSS) falls under the Marine Operations department. OSS consists of the Deep Submergence Group (DSG) and the Shipboard Scientific Services Group (SSSG). The DSG manages vessels like Alvin , Sea Cliff , Turtle , and Trieste . A large portion of this collection contains materials about Alvin.


Alvin, a deep submergence oceanographic research submarine, is owned by the US Navy, Office of Naval Research (ONR). Alvin is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Alvin’s commissioning on June 5, 1964 was the culmination of efforts of engineers and scientists to produce a vessel that would, in the words of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Director Paul Fye, “Enable us to investigate the oceans in their entirety…we look forward to the exciting new possibilities for research which will be revealed by its use.” 1 In the thirty-five years since, Alvin has fulfilled this promise, making over 3479 dives as of September 30, 1999.

The history of Alvin has been detailed in Water Baby by Victoria Kaharl and in many articles published both by WHOI and in the general and scientific press. Researchers can also visit the Marine Operations website, which contains an illustrated history of Alvin, cruise planning information, dive statistics, and a bibliography of Deep Submergence Laboratory publications.

Alvin - Administrative History

In 1960, in the “Proposed Aluminaut Program,” geophysicist Allyn Vine wrote, “through visual guidance and better in situ instrumentation, a deep submersible will result in better and more purposeful measurements than could be made using more conventional techniques. The eleven scientists concerned are interested in the various aspects of about a dozen different problems in oceanography.” 2 Vine detailed the kinds of oceanographic problems that could be investigated with a submersible—including biological and geological studies, physical and chemical oceanography, gravity, and sound transmission. The submersible should be available to “all oceanographers who want to use the device for worthwhile programs,” wrote Vine.

The first submersible WHOI attempted to build with funding from the Office of Naval Research was a collaborative effort with Reynolds Aluminum. This 42-foot submersible was named Aluminaut . Contract negotiations failed, however, and WHOI never operated Aluminaut (which was launched on September 2, 1964). The Institution did not give up the idea of building a submersible: in 1962 a contract was signed with General Mills, Inc. to build the vessel that would be christened Alvin. Soon afterward, General Mills was purchased by Litton Industries, which finished the project at a cost of about a million dollars. 3

Harold “Bud” Froehlich, a General Mills electronics division engineer, designed Alvin. Froehlich had designed a vehicle he called Seapup ; these plans were adapted to become Alvin. When completed, Alvin was 22 feet long, had an 8-foot beam, and displaced 13 long tons. With a draft of 8-1/2 feet in the surfaced condition, it could travel at a top speed of 6-8 knots, a cruising speed of 2-l/2 knots and a range submerged of 20-25 miles. It was designed to operate at a depth of 6,000 feet. Four ports permitted the pilot and observer to see ahead of and beneath the vehicle. The only openings in the hull were for the hatch and an emergency sphere release. Alvin was designed with three propellers—a small lift propeller on each side and a large propeller in the stern, all driven by reversible hydraulic motors powered by hydraulic pumps. A variable ballast system was designed to compensate for differences in the weight of personnel and instruments carried. 4 The name Alvin came from two sources: it was both a contraction of Allyn Vine’s name and a reference to the popular cartoon chipmunk.

The first two employees of what was then called the Alvin Group (it is now called Alvin Operations) were Joseph Walsh and James W. Mavor. Allyn Vine recruited William Rainnie, a graduate of the Navy Submarine Service in New London, Connecticut, in 1961. He became Alvin’s first pilot, and the first manager of the Alvin Group.

Rainnie left the Deep Submergence Group in 1973. Larry Shumaker succeeded him followed by Jack Donnelly and eventually Barrie Walden.

Even while Alvin was under construction, plans were underway to construct a mother ship to launch, retrieve, transport and service Alvin. Eventually named Lulu after Allyn Vine’s mother, this first transport ship for Alvin housed a crew of twenty-five. The records of Lulu can be found in a related collection in the WHOI archives.

Alvin made 77 shallow dives during the first year of operation. Then, after an overhaul and refit, in July of 1965, Alvin was lowered unmanned to 7,500 feet in the Bahamas. A series of increasingly deeper manned dives followed until, on July 20, 1965, Alvin reached a manned depth of 6,000 feet.

To fulfill its scientific missions, Alvin’s equipment and systems have had to be constantly updated. Improvements have allowed the sub to increase its depth to today’s 14,764 feet. Among these changes: in 1973, a new titanium pressure hull and variable ballast system were installed and in 1978, a new titanium frame. A T-bar was added to the sub’s frame in 1983 to allow for a single-point lift system in preparation for the R/V Atlantis II becoming Alvin’s mother ship and tender. In 1986, during a major overhaul, improvements were made to the submersible’s propulsion, electrical, and instrumentation systems. Safety release devices, payload capability, personnel sphere internal arrangement and data logging and display system were upgraded. The constant improvements in Alvin have allowed better navigation, greater maneuverability, and increased performance—which have allowed the submersible to accomplish its original goal of “investigating the oceans in their entirety.”

Sea Cliff

Sea Cliff was commissioned by the Navy on June 1, 1970. She was built using one of the spheres originally made for Alvin. Sea Cliff’s unique features include: two 7-function hydraulically operated manipulator arms, three 11-cm view ports, and video and still camera systems. In March 1985, Sea Cliff reached a depth of 20,000 feet. In 1998, the Navy transferred custody of Sea Cliff to WHOI.


Trieste, a bathyscaphe, was designed by Swiss scientist, August Piccard, and built in Germany and Belgium in 1953. The US Navy purchased Trieste in 1958. Trieste reached a record-breaking depth of 10,900 m (about 35,760 ft) with a crew of two people in the Mariana Trench in 1960.

Trieste II

Built at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Trieste II, the successor to Trieste, was completed in 1964. Trieste II used the same sphere that was originally used by Trieste.


Turtle was commissioned by the Navy on June 1, 1970. Like the Sea Cliff, Turtle was made from a sphere originally fabricated for Alvin. Turtle’s distinguishing features include: video and still cameras, two 6-function hydraulic manipulators, and four large view ports. It has an operating depth of 10,000 ft. Turtle was decommissioned on October 1, 1997.

  1. Deep Submergence VehicleAlvin, Commissioning Brochure, June 5, 1964, p.l, Woods Hole Oceanographic Archives.
  2. 2Vine, Allyn C.,WHOI Reference 60-19, ProposedAluminaut Program, p.l
  3. Sharp, Arnold G. and Shumaker, Lawrence A.,DSRVAlvin: A Review of Accomplishments, WHOI Technical Report 76-114, January, 1977, p.1
  4. 4Commissioning Brochure, p.2.


102.5 boxes (135.75 lin. ft.)


The Operational Scientific Services records consist of administrative, contractual, technical and scientific records of

Alvin and other deep submergence vehicles and equipment operations and those of other departments within the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Custodial History

The custodial history of the records is undocumented. See series descriptions for more information on the custodial history of the records.

Acquisitions Information

Records were transferred to the archives in multiple accessions between 1985 and 2010. See individual series descriptions for more specific acquistion information.

Related Material

Archives Vault: Alvin and Lulu Photograph Collections (including Negatives, Black and White Photographs and Color Transparencies); Lulu logs; Alvin and Lulu Plans; Cliff Winget Slide Collection.

Film Vault: Video and black and white films; Still photography, ocean bottom photos; Data, arranged by dive number, on floppy disk and CD-ROMs; Oral History Collection: Jack Donnelly

Records Storage: WHOI Directors (Fye and Steele) records; Allyn C. Vine papers (MC 1); Holger Jannasch papers (MC 21); Trieste records; Lulu records.

Main Reference Room: Cruise Files.

Separated Material

  1. 25th anniversary material – AC-53
  2. Navigation – rolled; Dives 713-733, 1317, 1318, 1320 - Data
  3. Notes – rolled, October 1968 - Data
  4. J. Mavor photographs, stress tests – AC-59
  5. J. Mavor photographs, general (2 folders) – AC-59
  6. Alvin navigation, 1317-1322 - Data
  7. Alvin navigation dive 822 - Data
  8. Alvin navigation 818, 820, 821 – Data

Processing Information

Processed by Nancy Kougeas and Marisa Hudspeth in 2000 and 2003. Additional processing done by Rosemary Davis in 2007. More specific processing information for the various accessions and groups of records is listed below.

For all Alvin Operations series (including Chronological Files, Systems and Equipment, Propulsion System, Project Titanes, Alvin Group General Correspondence, Alvin Group Miscellaneous Office Files, BuShips, and Master Files), original folder titles were maintained if file folder tags were extant. The numbering system, which had been designed by William Rainnie, was not maintained when the files were refoldered because many files were missing their tabs and the original system could not be reconstructed. Extensive photocopying onto archival quality paper was done as many of the original documents were on deteriorating papers. Files in both sets of boxes were refoldered into acid-free folders, and all metal fasteners were removed.

Surface Controller Logs, Work Logs, and the Camera Log were placed in acid-free folders. In cases where most of a log was empty, the blank pages were removed to conserve space.

See individual series descriptions for more specific processing information.

A Guide to the Operational Scientific Services records, 1949-1998 (bulk 1964-1988)
Nancy Kougeas, updated by Rosemary Davis
August 2000, updated October 2007
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository