Scope and Content of Collection
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla 92093-0175
Title: Willard Bascom Papers
Identifier/Call Number: SMC 0062
13 Linear feet
(13 records center cartons, 1 map case folder, 11 films, and digital files)
Date (inclusive): 1938-2000
Abstract: Papers of engineer and oceanographer Willard Bascom, including his correspondence, research files, writings, photographs and
films, along with materials from his company, Ocean Science and Engineering, Inc.
Scope and Content of Collection
Papers of engineer and oceanographer Willard Bascom, including his correspondence, research files, writings, photographs and
a small selection of films, along with materials from his company, Ocean Science and Engineering, Inc. Subjects of note include
Project Mohole, marine salvage and mineral prospecting, underwater archaeology, coastal engineering and marine water pollution.
The collection also includes Bascom's original 1953 memoir entitled "My Bubbles Rise in Steps: Free-Diving Adventures in the
Tropical Pacific," which details his experiences on the Capricorn Expedition.
Arranged in ten series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL FILES, 2) CORRESPONDENCE, 3) SUBJECT FILES, 4) GROUPS AND ORGANIZATIONS, 5) OCEAN
SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING, INC. (OSE), 6) PROJECTS AND EXPEDITIONS, 7) CONFERENCES AND EVENTS, 8) WRITINGS, 9) PHOTOGRAPHS AND
SLIDES and 10) AUDIOVISUAL MATERIAL.
Willard Bascom was a research engineer and oceanographer who pioneered a number of deep sea drilling and salvage projects.
Bascom attended the Colorado School of Mines where he studied engineering and geology and worked as a mining engineer from
1941-1945. He then served as Research Engineer for the UC Berkeley WAVES Project, where he directed a field party studying
waves and shorelines between 1945 and 1951. He joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1951 as a Research Engineer
studying weapons effects at nuclear test sites in the Pacific Proving Grounds. While at SIO he worked as adjunct professor
and accompanied the 1953 Capricorn Expedition as Senior Scientist in charge of pressure measurements throughout the cruise.
In 1954 he joined the staff at the National Science Foundation, where he spearheaded the preliminary phases of Project Mohole,
the first proposed attempt to drill through the earth's crust. As Director of Project Mohole between 1959 and 1962 Bascom
helped develop dynamic positioning techniques for holding ships in place during drilling processes. In 1961, test drilling
took place at a groundbreaking depth of 11,700 feet, however the project lost congressional support and was ultimately abandoned.
In 1962 Bascom founded Ocean Science and Engineering, Inc. (OSE), an undersea mineral resources excavation company which procured
approximately 20 million carats of diamonds for the De Beers diamond company in South Africa. In addition to his coastal engineering
and mineral prospecting work, Bascom was also greatly interested in underwater archaeology and the salvage of submerged vessels
and ancient shipwrecks. In the early 1960s, OSE developed a mechanical arm attached to the R/V
ALCOA Seaprobe for the purpose of retrieving sunken vessels at great depths, up to 1000 feet. His other company, Seafinders Inc., discovered
the wreck of the
Nuestra Senora de la Maravillas Spanish treasure galleon in the Bahamas in 1972. Between 1973 and 1984 Bascom served as Director of the Southern California
Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), an environmental research laboratory concerned with waste disposal in the ocean.
After leaving SCCWRP, Bascom continued his underwater archaeology endeavors in the Mediterranean Sea. In the early 1990s,
Bascom found a wreck near Artemision in northern Euboea, Greece from which he recovered three bronze statues for the Greek
National Museum. In 1996 Bascom was party to the crew who recovered a treasure hoard of 1860s gold coins from the
Brother Jonathan paddle steamer which sunk off the coast of Crescent City, California in 1865.
Bascom was a keen videographer and writer, and he documented many of his activities through both film and narrative. He authored
and edited several books, including A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea: The Story of the Mohole Project (1961), Great Sea Poetry
(1969), Deep Water, Ancient Ships: The Treasure Vault of the Mediterranean (1976), Waves and Beaches: The Dynamics of the
Ocean Surface (1979), and The Crest of the Wave: Adventures in Oceanography (1990).
Bascom received the Explorer's Club Medal for his contributions to deep water archaeology and geophysics in 1980. He died
in San Diego in 2000.
Willard Bascom Papers. SMC 62. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. ALLOW ONE WEEK FOR RETRIEVAL OF MATERIALS.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Original media formats in SERIES 10) AUDIOVISUAL MATERIAL are restricted.
Many of the moving image recordings have been digitized. Two films exist only in digital format.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Bascom, Willard -- Archives
Project Mohole -- Archives
Ocean Science and Engineering, Inc. -- Archives
Capricorn Expedition (1952-1953)