Cornelius Van Drebbel (1572-1633) and The First Submarine

The first serious discussion of a "submarine" (a craft designed to be navigated underwater) appeared in 1578 from the pen of William Bourne, a British mathematician and writer on naval subjects. Bourne proposed a completely enclosed boat that could be submerged and rowed underwater. It consisted of a wooden frame covered with waterproof leather; it was to be submerged by reducing its volume by contracting the sides through the use of hand vises. Bourne did not actually construct his boat, and Cornelius van Drebbel, a Dutch inventor, is usually credited with building the first submarine.

Between 1620 and 1624 he successfully maneuvered his craft at depths of 12 to 15 feet (4- 5 m’) beneath the surface during repeated trials in the Thames River, in England. Van Drebbel’s submarine was powered by oarsmen, the oars protruding through flexible leather seals. Snorkel air tubes were held above the surface by floats, thus permitting a submergence time of several hours.

Van Drebbel followed his first boat with two others. The later models were larger but they relied upon the same principles. It is reported that after repeated tests, King James I of England rode in one of his later models to demonstrate its safety. But even royal favor failed to arouse the interest of the British Navy. It was an age when the possibility of submarine warfare was still far in the future.

Drebbel`s submarine resembled that proposed by Bourne in that its outer hull consisted of greased leather over a wooden frame; oars extended through the sides and, sealed with tight-fitting leather flaps, provided a means of propulsion both on the surface and underwater.

It is also said that Van Drebbel developed a chemical which purified the air and allowed the crew to stay submerged for extended periods.

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Image Country Year Description
United States 2000 Th First Submarine, built by Dutchman Cornelius Van Drebbel- 1620, Brooklyn NY, 19 June, 1941
Guinea-Bissau 2008 Cornelius Van Drebble (1572-1633) and his submarine, first concept for military submarine
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