THE EVENING STAR, SATURDAY, JANUARY 6, 1900 – 24 PAGES                               15


How John P. Holland Solved the
Problem of Submarine Navigation


His Interesting Narrative About a
Wonderful Vessel


The fight between the Monitor and the Merri- mac in Hampton Roads led a schoolmaster in Cork, Ireland, to reflection and study that resulted in the creation of the submarine torpedo boat which now bears his name. A Star reporter heard the story of the genesis and development of this vessel from the lips of the inventor himself.

Mr. John P. Holland is Irish from the just ap- parent bald spot above his cerebellum to the tips of his sturdy shoes, and his intonation when he speaks is that of the educated Celt. He is an admi- rable talker, direct and to the point, and would be the delight of any stenographer on earth. When the reporter asked him how he came to think out and practically elucidate his ideas upon the prob- lem of submarine navigation of the destructive character, he simply said: “Well, I’ll tell you,” and thereupon began a narrative as succinct and direct as it is here reproduced.

“I was a schoolmaster in Cork, Ireland, when your civil war was in progress,” he remarked, “and about two weeks after the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac it struck me very forci-

Sketch of John P. Holland

bly that the day of wooden walls for vessels of war had passed, and that ironclad ships had come to stay forever. I reflected that with her tremendous facilities England would apply them to the situa- tion and become the chief naval power of the world; and I wondered how she could be retarded in her designs upon the other peoples of the world, and how they would protect themselves against those designs. A short time after that, following out the ideas thus inspired, I thought it ought to be possible that a boat could be made that would go under water. Then I was only aware that the only man who had ever tried to solve that problem was Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat, and that his attempt was a failure.

Studying the Problem

“Some years afterward – it was in 1870, I think – I was in bad health and was compelled to take a vacation from my duties as a pedagogue, and for a while time passed heavily on my hands. I hap- pened to revert to the submarine boat idea. At first I thought it absurd and impossible, but upon reflec- tion, I determined that it was unfair to condemn a notion without sensible investigation. Accordingly I started to consider what physical difficulties stood in the way of the success of such an experi- ment. Naturally several suggested themselves to my mind. First was the difficulty of carrying su- ficient air to support the life of those within a submerged boat, but it didn’t take me two minutes to convince myself that there was no obstacle on that point.

“This next question was how to prevent the boat from sinking to the bottom when under water, and

how to handle her when submerged in case suffi- cient power was available. I found the solution to these problems simple enough, because it was very plain that if the boat and its contents together could be made the same weight as an equal volume of water a very slight force would make it move in any direction, either up or down or horizontal, and therefore that the boat could be propelled by the ordinary propeller, and her motions in the vertical or horizontal planes be controlled in the ordinary way by rudders. There were practically no other difficulties in the way, the strength of shell to re- sist pressure of the water being a very simple one, indeed.

A Prime Consideration.

“I completed a design that embodied most of the principles developed later in the present boat. One of them was that a submarine boat should be as small as possible consistently with possessing sufficient offensive powers. She requires no other defensive power than submerging herself rapidly and availing herself of the armor provided by the water, so to speak.

“I laid my plans away in an envelope among my papers and thought little more of them until I came to this country in 1873,” continued Mr. Holland with a reminiscent smile, “and one day in the fol- lowing winter I slipped on the ice in Boston and broke my leg. I was laid up for three months, and needing something to pass the time away, I began to think of my submarine boat. I had a search made through my effects for my former solutions of the problem and fortunately the friend I had intrusted with the duty found them.

Started All Over Again

“When I was on the point of opening the enve- lope containing them it occurred to me it would be better to begin at the beginning of the subject and study it out over again from the start without look- ing at what I had done before I followed out my impression, and I was very much surprised and gratified to see that both plans were almost exactly alike, embodying the same principles. I then put them both away and actually forgot all about them until in 1875 a friend who happened to be going over some of my papers discovered them and urged me to send them to the Navy Department.

Capt. Simpson’s Conclusions.

“I did so immediately, and Secretary Robeson referred them to the late Admiral Simpson, then a captain at Newport. After careful study Capt. Simpson praised their ingenuity and admitted the practicability of everything claimed for a boat built according to the plans, but rejected them on the ground that it would be impossible to get men to operate such boats. The subject was again referred to Capt. Simpson, who again rejected them on the ground that the boat could not be steered under water; that it would be like a man trying to navi- gate a vessel in a fog.”

At this reminiscence Mr. Holland smiled again.

Advised to Drop It.

“A few weeks afterward I wrote Capt. Simpson, requesting his advice, unofficially, as to what I should do, seeing that my plans were rejected by him after he had made the admission that they seemed to be all right. He very kindly advised me to drop the whole matter, assuring me that it was very uphill work to put anything through in Wash- ington. Now, considering that the word ”any- thing” is very broad and covers even perfection itself, I judged it wise to follow his advice to drop it, and so I did.

“In the early summer of ’77 a friend advanced money to build an experimental vessel, but he insisted that I should put engines in it. That boat was built at the old Albany street iron works, New York. I experimented with it on the Passaic river above the Falls Bridge at Paterson, N. J. I made some important discoveries, even though I was hampered by an engine that proved to be practi- cally worthless. >My friend was so very well satis- fied with what he had seen that he urged me to abandon that boat and build a larger one, suitable for use in war.  Accordingly, the first boat was sunk in the middle of the Passaic river and aban- doned, and I immediately started to work on my second vessel at Delameter’s shop, foot of 13th street, North river, New York. This boat was fin- ished in April ’81, and she was very successful indeed.

Called It the Fenian Ram

“She excited xxx __etty of everybody, particu- larly newspapermen, but the policy of my partner in the business forbade us giving them any infor- mation. They were always courteous and gentle- manly, but were invariably annoyed at our reti- cence. On one occasion one of them having wit- nessed a few successful dives and being refused permission by us into the boat, told me I was mak- ing a mistake, because newspaper reports would help in place of hindering the project. He noticed, however, that the machine was evidently designed for the destruction of warships, also that the de- signer was unmistakably Irish, judging by his brogue, and it happened that at the same time the Fenian political excitement was causing trouble in Ireland. This gentleman was good enough to con- clude that the vessel was evidently intended for the Fenians to help them blow up the English navy, and he got even with me by naming my vessel facetiously the Fenian Ram, which name has stuck right hard and I have even become reconciled to use it myself. A sixteen-foot working model of the present vessel was built in 1882, and in that some new devices were applied.

Seizure of the Boats

“For some reason unknown to me, my partner seized both boats and had them towed toward New Haven. On the way up the smaller vessel was allowed to sink opposite White Stone, Long Island, and it went to the bottom in 110 feet of water.  An attempt was made on two or three succeeding days to locate it by dragging, but they failed to find it, and it was lost. The other boat was hauled out of the water at New Haven, and she is lying there still. Our partnership having been dissolved by the seizure of my boats, I endeavored to start a com- pany in order to develop the idea. In 1886 Capt. Zalinski of dynamite gun fame organized a com- pany for me. We built a rough experimental ves- sel, wooden sheathing under iron frame, with the object of satisfying the stockholders that it was possible to navigate her on the water. That vessel fell off the ways while being launched and was irreparably injured, even though Capt. Zalinski spent considerable of his own money in a useless endeavor to put it in working order again. Toward the end of 1887 Commander Kimball , Capt. Con- verse and Commander Maynard of the naval ord- nance department , who had studied the reports of my work, induced Admiral Sicard, who was then chief of ordnance, to advise Secretary Whitney to appropriate some of the money at his disposal for the construction of a submarine boat.

Plans Won in Competition

“He did so, and competition was held in 1888, in which my plans were selected in preference to others, proposed by Nordenfeldt, Baker, Prof. Tuck and some others. I failed to get the appro- priation, owing to an informality in my bid that was made for me by the Cramps of Philadelphia. Another competition was held the following year, in which my plans were also successful, but failed to get the money again, because after the decision was given in my favor, a change of political parties occurred. Gen. Tracy succeeded Mr. Whitney and the appropriation that I had won twice was di- verted, as funds were needed to complete the Mon- terey in San Francisco. I was so discouraged by my repeated failures with the government that I determined to renew my resolution to drop subma- rines for good, but Mr. Kimball urged me to try again. A new company was formed by Mr. E. B. Frost of New York. Another appropriation was gotten in 1893, and in 1895, after repeated set- backs, I contracted with the government to build the Plunger. During the development of the plans for this vessel, numerous difficulties were encoun- tered, due partly to the Navy Department’s re- quirements. I proposed alterations that were not accepted, and so I was compelled to build the boat from the original plans. Knowing that at best the Plunger would be an imperfect vessel, owing to these causes, I advised my company to build an- other vessel at its own expense in which I should be left absolutely untrammeled by any conditions prescribed by the Navy Department and the result is the vessel we have brought here to Washington to exhibit.