The Submarine Boat and its Future (excerpts)

by John P. Holland, "Inventor of the Modern Submarine"

(p. 901 – 902) No one practically objects to travelling on the surface of the water to-day. Yet, from the time when man fashioned his first skin canoe, to the present day, when we go to Europe in floating palaces, the sea has given us a steady record of tragedies. It is no uncommon thing for a whole shipload of people to go down into the depths.

            When, in contrast with these experiences, it is remembered that only one life has been lost in a submerged boat, it must be agreed that the objection to submarine travel is a superstition.

            For twenty-one years I have been experimenting with submarine craft. I have travelled in submerged boats under all sorts of conditions and with all sorts of crews. All my work has been experimental, the most dangerous stage of any mode of travel. Yet I have never had an accident. On one occasion, an engineer who thought he knew more about my boat than I did gave me a few uncomfortable minutes. Before putting out for a trial dive, he cut off the automatic attachment that supplied us with air. Before I had realized what the trouble was, our supply of air was permitted to get so low that my nose began to bleed. But when the engine was stopped, the reserve buoyancy sent the boat to the surface like a cask, and we had only to open our hatch to get relief. Certainly, that is a fair showing for nearly a quarter of a century of work.

            Possibly some people will exclaim against my statement that only one life has been lost in a submerged boat. They will point to half a dozen cases “of record” where whole crews lost their lives. The answer to that is very simple. The majority of cases so recorded were utterly without foundation. In other cases, the men operating the submarine boats were drowned while they were using them as surface boats, and because of that fact. The boat built by McClintock and Howgate for the Confederates sank with four of her crew, the last time after she had blown up the “Housatonic.” These accidents are charged against submarine navigation, when the fact is that had the boat been used as intended, under water, instead of on the surface, she would not have lost a single life. Mr. Howgate, one of her builders, told me himself that the first and second accidents were due to the failure of the crew to close the manhole cover when preparing to run out. The waves washed over the boat and tilled her. On her third trip, the new crew didn’t fasten the cover before diving. The fourth time, Mr. Howgate himself ordered the men to close the cover as the boat pulled away. Some one called back that it was “too hot.”

            To charge these accidents against submarine navigation is as reasonable as it would be to argue against surface navigation because a ship that went to sea with her side hatches swinging open filled and went to the bottom.

(page 903) In my own time, the thirty-two lives lost in the Confederate boat, and the fifty men drowned in the newspapers, stood as a solid barrier against me whenever I tried to take a step forward.

Holland, John P., “The Submarine Boat and Its Future,” The North American Review, Volume 171, Issue 529, December 1900, pages 901-903, Cedar Falls, Iowa: University of Northern Iowa

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