Sunday, January 13, 2013

An #Irish #Dreamer Creates The World's First #Submarine

Submarine conducts alpha trials in the Atlantic Ocean

January 13

Make Your Dream 
Come True

"All dreams come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." - Walt Disney

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams" - Eleanor Roosevelt. 

An Irish Dreamer
The Irish people have given the world a many innovations that changed the way we live. Whiskey, chocolate milk, and rubber soles are just a few of the things the Irish invented. You can see more at

John P. Holland
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
One of the major inventions created by an Irishman that has transformed the world is the submarine. The submarine was invented by John Philip Holland. John Philip Holland was born in Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland to John Holland and his Irish speaking wife, Máire Ní Scannláin on February 29, 1840. He was one of four sons. John never knew his father because his father had died the same year he was born.  In 1853, Máire Ní Scannláin moved her family to Limerick. 

John learned to speak English when he attended St. Macreehy’s National School. He may have also attended school at Christian Brothers School in Ennistymon for a brief period of time. Upon completing his educations he joined the Christian Brothers in Limerick where he taught for several years. While there, he kept up with his interest in scientific experimentation. He was obsessed with sea travel. Brother Dominic Burke noticed the young man's interested and encouraged John to complete designs for a submarine. John completed his first draft in 1859 but was not satisfied with it. While John was teaching in Limerick he was quite aware of the what was going on with United States Civil War. His dream of building an submarine was further encouraged when he learned of the famous sea battle between the Merrimac and Monitor. The battle gave him new ideas for his submarine. 

In 1870, Jules Vernes' novel 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was published. The book once again stirred John's passion to create a working submarine. John believed that submarines were the future of naval warfare. If a country had submarines they could sneak up on an enemy's ship from underwater and defeat them.

John left his teaching position in 1873 and immigrated to the United States. His mother and two of his brothers had already immigrated to Boston. At first John had worked for an engineering company but then left them to pursue teaching. He acquired a teaching position at St. John’s Catholic School in Paterson, New Jersey. John never abandoned his dream of creating the perfect submarine. He had tried to submit his plans to the US Navy for consideration. They turned him down claiming it would be unworkable. 

 In 1877, John built a submarine at Todd & Raftery’s shop in Paterson, NJ using the plans he had written at St. John's Catholic School. It was built for one man using a primitive 4 h.p. engine.  Named "Holland I", the submarine measured fourteen feet. John and his team brought his submarine to the Passaic River where he launched it in front of a large crowd. Unfortunately, the submarine sank to the bottom of the river because someone forgot to insert two screw plugs. 

Submarine Torpedo Boat, By John P. Holland, February 18, 1875,
Ink on paper 15" x 20 1/4"; Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance; Record Group 156; National Archives.
The next day, The Fenian Brotherhood, asked John if he could build them a submarine. The Fenian Brotherhood was the American counterpart to the Irish Republic Brotherhood who were against the British.  John agreed to supply them with a submarine ready for war. He dove down to the bottom of the Passaic River and removed pieces from the submarine he would need to build a new one. Fifty years later, his submarine was lifted out of the river where it continues to be preserved with his papers at the Patterson Town Museum.

The Fenian Ram
US Public Domain
The funding John received from the Fenian Brotherhood allowed him the freedom to leave his teaching position and concentrate on his submarine.  John didn't trust reporters, thinking they could be British spies. He never spoke to them about his designs. One frustrated reporter from the New York Sun, titled John's new project as the Fenian Ram. The name stuck. The new submarine was launched in May 1881 by the  Delamater Iron Company in New York. It could travel at 9 m.p.h. over water and 7 under water. It was armed with an underwater cannon that used compress air. Despite the successful launch, the Fenian Brotherhood decided not to fund John's project anymore. In November 1883, the Irish Republic Brotherhood stole the Fenian Ram.  They took the sub to New Haven, Connecticut and asked John to help them. John refused. Unable to use or sell the submarine, the Irish Republic Brotherhood placed it in a shed along the Mill River. She made a reappearance in 1916 at the Madison Square Gardens where she was used to raise fund for the Easter Rising. She was them moved to the New York  State Marine School. She was purchased in 1927 by Edward Browne who donated her to the Patterson Town Museum.

John P. Holland in his submarine.
US Public Domain. 
Despite the difficulties, John never abandoned his dream. He privately designed and built prototypes. In 1896, after winning a competition for submarine design, he established the John Holland Torpedo Boat Company with Charles A. Morris as his chief engineer. The United States Navy tried to interfere several times with his company claiming John was an gifted amateur. John proved all his naysayers wrong when on Saint Patrick's Day in 1898 he launched his Holland 6 submarine into the New York Harbour. The Holland 6 was the first submarine to have enough power to go a considerable distance. She could carry 15 passengers. She was the first to combine the use of gasoline for surface travel and electricity for underwater travel. She measured 53 feet long. She had a torpedo tube at the bow. It was considered a success. The public and the Secretary of Navy, Theodore Roosevelt were impressed. Yet still the government was not interested in John's submarine. 

John made some changes to his design and then resubmitted to the US Navy. Finally on April 12, 1900  the US Navy bought his submarine for $150,000. John had spent twice as much producing it. The first US submarine was commissioned on October 12, 1900. John also has sold submarines to Great Britain and Japan. 

John Holland died on August 12, 1914 in Newark, New Jersey, less than a mile from where he launched his first submarine.  He was survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. You can read his obituary here.

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