Lieutenant William W. Kimball, U.S.N.
(1848 - 1930)

Photo of William Kimball

Rear Admiral William W. Kimball U.S.N. was born in Paris, Maine on January 9, 1848 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1869. Admiral Kimball was assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport Rhode island in 1870.1

The following was taken from the "Supplementary Chapter By W. W. Kimball, Rear Admiral, U.S.N. Retired" in Frank Cable's book The Birth and Development of the American Submarine (1924).

"My own friendship for Holland began in 1883 and continued until his death."
"In the early Ďeighties, I became interested in the submarine operation, had seen the design of a one man-power boat that Holland submitted to the Torpedo Station and knew in a general way what he had accomplished on the Fenian Ram."
"Holland came aboard the flagship of the N. A. Station, then alongside the dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to dine in response to my invitation, and after dinner we went over the main principles of his methods of a submerged craft. At the time Holland was my dinner guest, the Fenian Ram had been surreptitiously taken from him and he was working at Rowlands in developing explosive engines with Brayton. He was most anxious to return to submarne construction. Before he left the ship he had agreed that, if I could arrange it, he would work on a draftsmanís pay in the Bureau of Ordance, on his designs. The Chief of Bureau of Ordance was much inclined to make the offer as I had arranged, but Congress had adjourned. There was absolutely no money available to pay Holland as a draftsman."
"Just before sailing, Zalinski came to me and asked who knew anything about submarines. I told him that Holland was far and away the best submarine man in the United States, if not the the world, but that he, Zalinski, was to keep hands off, as the Navy Department might make Holland an offer. Two or three months later, while cruising the Spanish Main, came a letter from Holland saying he had waited as long as he could for the Navy Department; that necessary support for his family would not allow a longer wait - and so he had gone to work for Zalinskiís company."
"The following season, when my ship touched in at New York, I ran down to Fort La Fayette, where the Zalinski company boat was being built, to see Holland and have a chat. He confided to me that all that could be proved by the craft was that atmospheric air at normal pressure and at normal purity could be breathed by humans in a boat under water just as it could in a room above water; that she had no practical propulsive power and no real armament; but that the men furnishing the money required the air-breathing test."
"At the end of my cruise, I found myself, in the latter part of 1886, on duty in the Bureau of Ordnance. The submarine question was troublesome. I suggested that an easy way to meet the submarine bother was to ask for bids for furnishing a submarine just as bids were asked for furnishing shoes or canvas. I agreed to draw up such specifications subject to appproval by the Chief of Ordanace. Only two designs were offered. The designs were those of Holland and Nordenfeldt. The Naval Board found in favor of the Holland design, but rejected the bids as exorbitant in price. With a change in administration, interest in submarine development languished."
"At the end of my next cruise at sea, Holland came to me, quite cheerful. He had formed a company, his design had won a third competition, an appropriation of $150,000 had been made, and a building contract was in the making. Hollandís accepted design had to be from the nature of the case, a sketch design showing applications of principles and methods of working, but not working-drawing dimensions, since the dimensions were not fully decided upon. Under such circumstances the contract very properly required that the details of the working drawings should be approved by the Department."
"The steam boiler was a serious handicap, but not altogether inadmissible, as were Department requirements as to approval of details. When Holland asked the Bureau of Steam Engineering what propulsion would be approved for the Plunger, he was told that twin screws must be installed, whatever else. Then he asked the Bureau of Ordance what torpedo-tube installation would be approved. He was informed that two torpedo tubes were required. A short time after these requirements were made, I met the director of Hollandís company and told him that in my opinion the Plunger had been made an utter failure. I expressed the opinion that the only practical thing to do, provided the company had the necessary pluck and the more necessary money, was to build a boat of their own and demonstrate what she could do. He asked me to lend a hand in designing, especially as to military features, which I agreed to do."
"Before the Holland was off the stocks the war with Spain was looming and I was very anxious to have an air gun installed for use in dropping high explosive shells into the Norro at Havana. We did not know how to use high explosives with gunpowder propulsion in those days. The air gun was not very much in the way in the boat, and so it was installed."
"Touching in at New York after the Spanish War, I found Holland and Captain Cable trying out the Holland in New York Harbor. The Holland company was at the end of its tether financiall and were negotiating with Mr. Rice for necessary capital. Mr. Rice asked me what chance there was for the future of submarines. I told him that the navy Department was opposed to them, that Great Britain in her own interests was bound to hold them back, but that every navy would have then eventually."
"Before sailing on a surveying job in Nicaragua, I told Mr. E. B. Frost, who bore all the heat and burden of the financial end of the Holland boatís development, that the thing to do was to ask the Department to define the requirements of a practical submarine torpedo boat, then practice with the Holland till meeting those requirements would be certain, then ask for a trial board, the favorable report of which would give the submarine a real status."
"Holland was confident that his boat could meet the tests. I told him to pick out a place where the water was not so deep and have her do the requirements again and again before asking for the official trial. There were plenty of places up Gardnerís Bay that, in my opinion, would answer for practice courses."
"When my cruise was up early in 1900, I found myself on shore duty at the Washington Navy Yard. The Holland Company had asked Congress for an appropriation for submarines. Hearing were held by the Naval Committees of both Houses. The committee called me before it. When a congressional committee calls on naval officers, the Department directs them to express their opinions if asked for them. I expressed mine. They ran directly counter to most of those of the three chiefs of bureaus who had given theirs, and the committee was most polite in expressing interest in my statements. Seven boats were appropriated for by Congress, boats which were neither asked for nor desired by the Department."
"While I had been given perfect freedom to express my opinions before the Senate Naval Committee, it was irritating to the three chiefs of bureaus, whom I directly contradicted, to have such opinions lying about, especially as there seemed to be some connection between these opinions and an appropriation for utterly undesired submarines. And so, in 1901, on Christmas Eve, I found myself boarding a ship and heading for the fair South Seas, where I could ponder upon the unwisdom of kicking against the pricks of superior authority."
"During the thirty years in which I knew Holland, I knew him as a man with a wonderful nose for smelling out basic mechanical principles, with a great capaciy for practically applying those principles, and with a bulldog tenacity in hanging on and making things work under discouraging conditions."
"He was most appreciative, even when one wished to lend him a hand and really did nothing of the sort. It is this generous appreciativenesss that made him write of me to a certain personage - a writing of which I am the prouder because it is so far from true - 'He has done more for submarining than any other living man.'"
"He was a fair fighter, a most interesting and amusing companion, the stanchest of friends."2

Admiral Kimball died in Washington, D.C. on January 26, 1930.3

  1. U.S. Navy Submarine Centennial website (chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/submarines/centennial/pioneers3.htm)
  2. Kimball, William W., in the Supplementary Chapter, Cable, Frank Taylor, The Birth and Development of the American Submarine. (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1924), pp. 314-337.
  3. U.S. Navy Submarine Centennial website (chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/submarines/centennial/pioneers3.htm)

1999,2000 Gary McCue

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