John P. Holland, an Irish born American, designed and built the first submarine commissioned in the United States Navy (The Alligator was never commissioned). The USS Holland SS-1 was officially commissioned on 12 October 1900. This was the sixth submarine built by Holland. His submarine was also the first submarine in the Royal Navy, HMS Holland 1.
Holland immigrated to the United States in 1873 at the age of 32. While a teacher in Ireland during the American Civil War, Holland realized the easiest way to attack blockading ships was from below. By 1875, he had drawn up designs for a submarine and submitted them to the United States Navy. The designs were turned down as unworkable. The Fenians, a pro Irish independence group in the United States, funded Holland allowing him to work full time on his submarine designs. In 1881, Holland built his Fenian Ram. This submarine is now in the Paterson Museum, Patterson, New Jersey.
He continued to work on his submarine designs. In May of 1897, he built his first submarine which used gasoline engine for surface propulsion and battery powered electric motors for submerged operation. This submarine was known as Holland VI and it was this submarine the United States Navy purchased on 11 April 1900 and commissioned it as the USS Holland SS-1 on 12 October 1900.
Though he was in competition with Lake (from our previous article) to build submarines for the United States Navy, his designs were the ones which were responsible for the majority of the submarines purchased by the navy. Holland found the Electric Boat Company 7 February 1899, and this company eventually became the major defense contractor General Dynamics. The submarine division of General Dynamics is still called Electric Boat and continues to build submarines for the United States Navy in Groton, Connecticut. Though Lake was forced to close his shipyard in the 1920s, he continued to be a consultant to the navy for the rest of his life.
In addition to the British, The Japanese also adopted Holland’s design for their navy. The Royal Navy submarine HMS Holland 1 is on display at the Submarine Museum, Grosport, England. USS Holland was decommissioned in July 1905. In 1910, Henry A. Hitner & Sons purchased the Holland for scrap. It was sold to Peter J. Gibbons in 1915 and displayed at the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts, and Industries in New York. From there the Holland was moved to Patterson, New Jersey where it was displayed until 1932. In 1932, this historic submarine was again sold as scrap and destroyed.
Simon Lake, a naval architect with more than 200 patents to his name. Lake competed with John P. Holland to build the first submarines for the United States Navy. Holland and Lake both built submarines for many navies and they are the father’s of the modern submarine. From childhood he had a strong interest in undersea travel.
Lake, born 4 September 1866 in Pleasantville, New Jersey, built his first submarine the Argonaut Junior in 1894 in response to a United States Navy request for a submarine torpedo boat. Argonaut Junior was a prototype 14 feet long, 4 feet wide, 5 feet in height, it had a lockout chamber in enter and exit the submarine while submerged and it had three wheels on the bottom to keep it from getting stuck on the sea bottom. The two man crew propelled the submarine by hand cranking the two drive wheels.
In 1898 he built the 36 foot Argonaut 1 and sailed it 1,000 miles from Norfolk, Virginia to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Taking what he learned from the trip he rebuilt the Argonaut 1 renaming it Argonaut 2 and extending its length to 60 feet.
His next submarine was the Protector, but the navy did not except any of the three submarines. Lake sold the Protector to the Imperial Russian Navy in 1904 and it was renamed Osetr. He did not have the financial resources of Holland so he spent the next seven years in Europe building submarines for Russia, Germany, and Austro-Hungary.
Ripe with success in Europe, Lake founded the Lake Torpedo Boat Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1912. Lake built 26 submarines for the United States Navy during and after World War I. His first submarine for the Navy was USS G-1 SS -19½. USS G-1(named Seal renamed G-1 by the navy) set a depth record of 256 feet in November 1912. The submarine was built on a subcontract at the Newport News Ship Building Company in Newport News, Virginia. The submarine met and exceeded all of the navy’s requirements.
In the 1920s, because of the naval reduction treaties, Lake was forced to close his ship building company. But, he remained an advisor to the United States Navy on maritime salvage and submarine technology until his death on 25 June 1945.