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History of the Submarine

The USS Holland Submarine - John Holland

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Launch of USS Holland Submarine

Launch of USS Holland Submarine May 17, 1897

U.S. Navy
In 1862, the United States Federal navy tested a prototype submarine called Alligator. The Alligator submarine was intended for operations in the James River below Richmond, Virginia. However, the Alligator proved too large for diving in the river's shallow waters. The Alligator sank at sea while it was being towed to the Charleston operating area.

In 1872, the Navy unsuccessfully tested Intelligent Whale, another hand crank-powered submarine that failed. After the Intelligent Whale's failure as a submarine, inventors realized that until a propulsion method better than manpower could be developed for underwater use, submarines were not going to be worth the effort.

John Holland

By the last decade of the nineteenth century steam propulsion had replaced sail power in the U.S. Navy. In 1896, the Navy insisted that submarine designer John Holland build his first contract submarine named the Plunger, with a steam engine for surface propulsion.

John Holland, an Irish-American school teacher and inventor, objected to steam power in submarines. Nonetheless John Holland built the Plunger with three steam engines to meet the Navy's prescribed surface speed.

The Plunger

During dock trials of the Plunger submarine, the temperature in the fire room reached 1370F with the power plant at 2/3 rated output. Similarly, during Plunger's sea trials a crewmember reported, "When we tried to submerge, it was so hot no one could live in her." Today, the nuclear reactor has eliminated this drawback to a heat source and submarines are driven by steam. But, before the advent of nuclear power, the internal combustion engine was the submarine's first viable source of power.

Internal Combustion Engine

The internal combustion engine offered speed and comparative endurance on the surface, but its deadly carbon monoxide exhaust fumes and high oxygen consumption were obstacles to life beneath the surface. By 1900, submarine designers had solved this problem with the storage battery and electric motors. John Holland was the first to conceive of employing electric motors and the internal combustion engine to power a submarine.

John Holland and Simon Lake

John Holland and another American, Simon Lake, became the first modern submarine designers. They began their experiments in the last decades of the nineteenth century, John Holland in the 1870s and Simon Lake in the 1890s.

John Holland built six submarines, including one under government contract, before the Navy would accept one of his underwater boats. The Navy also considered, but decided not to accept, Simon Lake's Argonaut, an advanced version of his Argonaut, Jr.

Simon Lake's Argonauts had wheels with which to crawl along shallow bottoms and air locks to permit divers to enter and leave the wooden hulk while it was submerged.

USS Holland

In 1900, John Holland sold the US Navy its first viable submarine, USS Holland (SS-1). This submarine was originally named Holland VI and was not developed under Navy contract. Holland VI was designed and built by its namesake using his own funds. USS Holland had the "amazing speed" of seven knots surfaced, made possible by her 45-horsepower internal combustion engine. She also had an endurance of several hours submerged when running on rechargeable storage batteries.

The USS Holland was armed a single torpedo tube and a pneumatic dynamite gun that fired through an opening in the bow. The Holland carried three Whitehead torpedoes, each with a pressure-sensitive piston that controlled the depth of the torpedoe run. The torpedo's stability was controlled by a pendulum, while direction was controlled by a gyroscope. A number of modern torpedoes used similar principles.

Continue > John Holland vs Simon Lake Submarine Designs

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