John Hollandís First Submarine
Holland I

H1-03-Holland I Model

Holland I Model

Published in Dynamic America

H1-04-Dunkerly sketch of Holland I

Drawn from memory by William Dunkerly

Published in the Paterson Sunday Chronicle in 1916

Length 14 feet 6 inches
Beam 3 feet 0 inches
Depth 2 feet 6 inches
Displacement 2.25 tons

Click Here for more images of the Holland I

John Hollandís first submarine was built in 1877 at the Albany City Iron Works in New York City. In the spring of 1878, the Holland I was moved to the shops of J. C. Todd and Company in Paterson, New Jersey, to be finished. The Holland I was launched from the back of a horse drawn wagon on 22 May 1878.

Funding was provided by the Irish Fenian Brotherhoodís Skirmishing Fund. Although outwardly similar to his early designs, there were some significant changes. The most troublesome change was the addition of a 4 H.P. Brayton engine.

"The Brayton engine, mounted on angle irons in the central compartment forward of the operator, did not live up to Hollandís expectations, nor the specifications claimed for it by the designer. It was a two-cylinder affair with ordinary slide valves opening into a single pressure chamber. It might have been operated by steam or compressed air, but nothing would induce it to explode gasoline. Undefeated by such a discovery, Holland ingeniously attached a rubber hose to the top of the pressure chamber. Then he ran it through a watertight hole in the turret and over the side to Dunkerleyís launch, where he fastened it to a valve on the launchís boiler."1

In his "Notes on the Fenian Ram", John Holland described his experiences with the his first submarine as follows:

"The boat described in the specification [his first design] was not built, but a larger one, which was, by an after thought, fitted with a pair of petroleum engines. These proved a failure, but the experiments were not prevented. I hired a steam launch and took steam through a hose from its boiler. By towing the launch alongside or behind I was able to do considerable experimenting."
"The first thing I found out was that it was folly to be bothered with either respirators or air purifying appts. They need lots of attention that can't be spared for them, and a fair supply of compressed air, that can be easily stored, render them superfluous."
"The trouble and care required to handle things in the boat satisfied me that although the plan of opening the top to send off a torpedo looked nice on paper, one man could never manage it. He could not be quick enough, and as he couldn't afford to miss anything, it would not be satisfactory."
"Therefore I determined to employ a gun that could do better work more rapidly and reliability, and with less trouble and risk. The danger of an explosion, or the blow of a heavy shot in the neighborhood that might explode my torpedoes, help to condemn my plan. Even though the gun rendered it necessary to provide a larger boat and to have two or three men, it appeared to be far preferable."
"Besides the engines, the most signal failure was the method of going under water - a pair of balanced rudders on a transverse axis at the center of buoyancy. They were positively no good, and showed no result at the best speed I could get, about 3-1/2 miles. When turned at a considerable angle, the speed dropped to next to nothing. On studying that point afterward I saw that the power for the submerged run, with any motor requiring air, would be all wasted in overcoming even a little reserved buoyancy. The equivalent of this plan - downhaul screws - is just as expensive in power, and more objectionable because more cumbersome, even though the boat is pulled down while lying still. More water ballast does the same thing and does it much better; every gradation of gravity being obtainable by employing compressed air and valves operated by water pressure, and it may be done automatically. Yet this was the subject of one of Nordenfeldt's Laws of Submarine Navigation, as promulgated by his friends in Engineering. My experiments were made in May 1887, in the Passaic River at Paterson, N.J. The longest time spent under water in this little boat was one hour."2

On June 6, 1878, John Holland dove to a depth of twelve feet while members of the Irish Fenian Society watched. The observers were clearly impressed and agreed to fund the design and construction of a larger submarine.

After an exhaustive series of tests, John Holland removed everything of value and scuttled the hull in the Upper Passaic River. The hull was recovered in 1927 and is currently on display at the Paterson Museum in Paterson, New Jersey.

Plaque Along Upper Passaic River

(Photo courtesy of Richard Morris)

  1. Morris, Richard K., John P. Holland: Inventor of the Modern Submarine. (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1966; 2nd ed., Univ. S.C. Press, 1998), p. 29.
  2. Holland, John P., "Notes on the Fenian Ram" ("Memoir," MS in Paterson Museum)

Copyright 1999,2000,2001,2002 Gary McCue