John Philip Holland (1841-1914) and his submarine dynasty

The United States Submarine Service was born on April 11, 1900 when the Navy Department purchased John Holland`s sixth submarine.  The Holland VI was commissioned as USS Holland on October 12, 1900 and later given the designation S-1.

John P. Holland who was to become one of the most eminent submarine designers was born in Ireland on February 24, 1841.

Emigrated to America in 1873 and started working as a schoolteacher in New Jersey.   

1874 Schoolteacher John P. Holland submitted a submarine design, known as a 16 feetearly design, to the Secretary of the Navy, who passed the paperwork to a subordinate. No one would willingly go underwater in such a craft, that officer suggested, and, even if the idea had merit, he warned Holland, "To put anything through Washington was uphill work."
1878 Finding sponsorship with the Fenians, a group of Irish revolutionaries seeking a way to harass the British Navy, Holland built a small prototype submarine, Holland No.1, to test out his theories, including the use of a gasoline engine. The trial was successful enough to encourage building a larger, more warlike boat.
 1881 Holland launched the Fenian Ram, 31 feet long and armed with a ram bow and an air-powered cannon.
The craft reached speeds of nine knots, depths of 60 feet, and stayed down for as long as an hour during
tests, which took up to two years to complete. The Fenians became increasingly frustrated with Holland`s delays and, faced with internal legal squabbles, stole their own boat and hid it in a shed in New Haven, Connecticut, where it remained for 35 years. Holland had nothing more to do with the Fenians, and the boat
was eventually donated to the city of Patterson, where it is now on display in West Side Park.
1883 Holland and several investors formed the Nautilus Submarine Boat Company, hoping to sell a submarine to the French, then at war in Indochina. The company launched its prototype, dubbed the Zalinski Boat, in 1885, but the vessel proved too heavy for the launching ways and smashed into some pilings. Her damage repaired, she made some token trial runs, but the war ended and the company went bankrupt.
1895 After competing twice for a US Navy specification bid wining twice and putting on hold twice finally the US Navy awarded the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company $200,000 to build an 85-foot, 15-knot, steam-powered submarine called Plunger. Holland was only somewhat pleased. He didn`t like the imposition of a steam engine as well some changes the Navy insisted upon. Congress was thrilled with the prospect, however, and immediately authorized two more submarines of the Plunger type at $175,000 apiece.
1897 Even before Plunger had failed, Hollandbegan construction of a smaller (54 feet), slower (7 knots), gasoline-powered boat, Holland VI. Armament: one dynamite gun (air-launched, 222-pound projectile with seven loads) and a Whitehead torpedo (three loads). Crew: six men. Habitability: included a toilet to support operations as long as 40 hours.

Holland began a series of public demonstrations. The New York Times, May 17, 1897: "The Holland, the little cigar-shaped vessel owned by her inventor, which may or may not play an important part in the navies of the world in the years to come, was launched from Nixon`s shipyard this morning."
By November the Navy held an official trial of Holland VI. Some problems existed, but Hollanddid not have enough money to fix them. So he joined forces with a wealthy industrialist to form the Electric Boat Company. He was designated Chief Engineer.
1899 After a modified Holland VI passed the Navy trials, the company made a formal offer to sell the boat to the Navy and moved it down from New York to Washington, D.C. to enhance the PR effort with some demonstrations for members of Congress.
And the rest as it is very well known is history!

Back to History Index

Image Country Year Description
Ireland 1981 John P. Holland & Holland submarine 1878
United States 2000 John P.Holland, Submarine Circa 1872, Stamp Show Station , Clifton NJ, 6 May, 2000
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