Lawrence York Spear
(1870 - 1950)

Photo of young Lawrence Spear Photo of elderly Lawrence Spear

Lawrence York Spear, son of William T. Spear (Judge of the Ohio State Court), was born in 1870 in Warren, Ohio. He graduated second in his class from the Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1890. His initial tours of duty included the USS Pensacola (a wooden ship), USS Baltimore and USS Charleston. Soon afterwards, he was selected to join the Naval Construction Corp and was sent to the University of Glasgow to study Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.1

Spear graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor of Science degree, then returned to the United States. His many tours of duty with the Construction Corp included: "assistant superintendent of construction during the building of Admiral Dewey's famous flagship, the cruiser Olympia, and the battleship Oregon of "Around-the-Horn" fame; superintending constructor of the destroyer Rowan; and instructor of naval architecture at the post-graduate school at Annapolis."2 Spear resigned from the Navy in 1902 and accepted a position with the Electric Boat Company as naval architect and vice-president (John Holland's boss). In 1911, he became president of the New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) in Groton, Connecticut. NELSECO was merged with Electric Boat in 1930. In 1942, Spear was promoted to president of the Electric Boat Company, and in 1947, he was promoted to chairman of the board - a position he held until his death in 1950.

According to Robert Hatfield Barnes:

"Holland was the original idea man, but most ineffectual in obtaining practical results. To operate his submarines, he introduced many and varied automatic devices, his belief being that these were essential for the proper performance of all subsea craft. For instance, he contended that the operator should sit on a camp stool and manipulate the submarine by means of push buttons and switches. This is beautiful in theory, provided it always works; but it is a well-known fact that machinery is without conscience. Thus it became the conclusion of Spear and Cable that hand-operated gear was far safer and more dependable. It was on this premise that Spear and Cable worked in salvaging the Adder and six more of her type, the 'A' class submarines, from total failure. Holland had lost himself in the maze of his inventions. The navy Department at that time knew nothing about submarines, as the department's specifications will attest. The situation was bad."
"In solving the difficulties of the 'A' class submarines, on the solution of which in a large measure depended the future of American submarines, an amusing incident occurred. After Spear and Cable had taken upon themselves the removal of Holland's contraptions from these first American boats, Holland chanced to look down from his office one day to discover his pet equipment lying dismantled on the dock. Demanding an explanation, Spear and Cable reasoned with him, but with little effect. In tears, Holland said, 'You might expect this from a young whippersnapper from the navy. He has ruined my life's work." Spear was generally blamed when things did not suit Holland."3

The friction between Lawrence Spear, who advocated submarines optimized for surface performance and ocean cruising, and John Holland, who's goal in life was to design a true undersea vessel, figured heavily in John Holland's decision to resign when his contract expired in 1904.

  1. Obituary dated September 26, 1950 provided by Victor du Busc
  2. Barnes, Robert Hatfield, United States Submarines (New Haven: H. F. Morse Associates, Inc., 1944), pp 25.
  3. Ibid., pg 25-27.

1999,2000,2001,2002 Gary McCue

Gary W. McCue
17 November 2002