John Philip Holland Irish Inventor of the Submarine

by Admin · Published May 26, 2011 · Updated May 15, 2014

John Philip Holland 1841 – 1914 Submarine Torpedo Boat : 1888

Inventor of first successful submarine, the ‘Fenian Ram’. John Holland was born on 24 February, 1841 in Co. Clare.

John Philip Holland’s father was a Coast Guard, giving John a love of the sea that was to stay with him. He joined the Christian Brothers and was assigned to the North Monastery school in Cork where he met Brother James Dominic Burke. Brother Burke was interested in science and submarines. In fact he used to demonstrate the powers of electricity in underwater propulsion in public exhibitions. Encouraged by Brother Burke, Holland began to work on his own inventions and submarine designs. He became well known for his inventions: old pupils recalled how he constructed a mechanical duck, resembling an ordinary duck, that could walk about in the garden and when put in water could swim, dive and come to the surface again!

However, it wasn’t until Holland joined his family in Boston in 1873 that he was able to do anything with this work. His brother Michael was active in the Fenian Brotherhood. The Fenians wanted a small submarine that could be sealifted on a large merchant ship to an area near an unsuspecting British warship. The plan was to release the submarine to attack the ship, then return to base. John’s drawings and ideas seemed to fit the bill, so in 1876 John was funded by the Fenians for the research and development of the ‘Fenian Ram’, which was launched in 1881. Disagreements arose over the money spent on the project and Holland and the Fenians parted company. His next submarine was with Zalinski’s Pneumatic Gun Company. The Zalinski Boat, built in 1885, was armed with a pneumatic gun.

Holland entered several Navy competitions for a viable submarine, even winning one but no contract came of it. Discouraged, Holland turned his attention to the problems of mechanical flight, something that he worked on until his death. However, he was unable to let go of his dream of a Navy submarine. In 1893, he got his wish, building the Plunger. However , red-tape and military requirements doomed the project to failure and Holland abandoned it. Finally in 1896, Holland was able to build his latest design as a Private Venture with no Navy interference. The Holland VI was launched for sea-trials on May 17,1897.

Finally, the Navy Department purchased this submarine, paying only half of what it cost Holland to develop it. This purchase led to the creation of The United States Submarine Service on April 11, 1900. The Holland VI was commissioned as USS Holland on October 12, 1900 and later given the designation SS-1. Great Britain, Japan and the Netherlands followed America’s suit and bought Holland’s designs. Sadly, like many great inventors, business men took over his work and pushed him out into the cold. A lawsuit in 1904 prevented Holland ever working on submarines again. Beaten, John Holland began to design aircraft, only to have the Wright brothers beat him to the punch. Proper recognition for his invaluable contribution to Naval design only came after his death and John Holland died a poor and broken man.

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