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Development of the Modern Submarine

The first submarine used in combat (1776) was invented in 1773 by David Bushnell, an American. This vessel was a small, egg-shaped craft constructed of wood and operated by one man who turned a propeller. The vessel was submerged by admitting water, and it was surfaced by forcing out the water with a hand pump. Many of Bushnell's principles were later used by Robert Fulton for the construction of his Nautilus, a submarine successfully operated (1800–1801) on the Seine River and at Le Havre. On one occasion the inventor remained submerged for 6 hr, receiving air through a tube that extended to the surface. Later Fulton devised and used a spherical tank of compressed air to replenish the air in the submarine. This device, horizontal rudders, the screw to keep water out during submerged operation, and other features of Fulton's submersible vessel made it a forerunner of the modern submarine. In the U.S. Civil War the Confederates used several submersible craft fitted with a mine at the end of a spar that protruded from the bow. In 1864 one of these craft, the H. L. Hunley, named posthumously for its inventor, destroyed a Union vessel in Charleston harbor but was itself lost with its crew.

The development of the modern submarine in the United States was advanced considerably by the work of John Holland and Simon Lake. One of Holland's submarines was propelled on the surface by a gasoline engine and by electric motors powered by storage batteries when submerged. The craft was 54 ft (16 m) long and had a top speed of 6 knots and a crew of six. In 1900 it became the U.S. Navy's first submarine. Holland's efforts were especially important in the development of submergence by water ballast and of horizontal rudders for diving. Lake's Argonaut, built in 1897, became the first submarine to navigate extensively in the open sea when it made (1898) a trip through heavy storms from Norfolk, Va., to New York City. However, the Argonaut was not accepted by the U.S. Navy, and it was not until several European governments had made use of Lake's talents that the U.S. government employed him.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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