It was September 7, 1776, when an American submarine called the Turtle attempted to attach a time bomb to the British flagship Eagle in New York Harbor. This was the first known use of a submarine for warfare. It was an adventure that changed the face of warfare forever.
The Intelligent Whale
In 1863, Scovel Merriam proposed a design for a submarine. He secured funding for his company from businessmen and Oliver “Pet” Halsted, a political and social activist with connections in the Lincoln administration. Halsted lobbied the Navy to build Merriam’s design, but ultimately the project was unsuccessful.
The submarine, called the Intelligent Whale, had a crew of six and was powered by four cranks. It had a cupola with several viewing holes. These viewing holes were cone-shaped and tapered to a tiny hole on the exterior. The viewports were designed to resemble eye sockets.
The first submarine was built by John P. Holland, an Irish-born engineer and teacher at Paterson parochial school. He started building his submarine in New York but finished it in his shop in Paterson. In 1878, he launched it in front of a large crowd. The first ride lasted an hour and reached a depth of 12 feet.
John Holland’s submarines
The first prototype of John Holland’s submarine was a 14-foot model, propelled by an external steam supply. A demonstration was held at Coney Island in 1882. John Holland and other Fenian activists were impressed by the small craft and set aside $6,000 from their skirmishing fund to build one.
Holland had a poor education and became a competent draftsman and engineer. He had a strong intuitive talent and was obsessed with submarines. He spent his free time studying submarine designs and plans. He had to work hard for money, but his hard work paid off.
After completing the first prototype, Holland began to build a larger boat with fittings for armaments. In the spring of 1878, he moved the craft to the machine shop of the L.C. Todd company in Paterson. The company installed a Brayton petroleum engine and proceeded with trials on the Passaic River. During the trials, the vessel traveled at three and a half miles per hour.
Tests of the Ling
The Ling submarine has been a long-standing tourist attraction in New Jersey, but its location in the Passaic River is questionable. In the early 1990s, 121 sediment cores were collected from the lower 9.7 km of the river and analyzed for lead-210 (210Pb) and cesium-137 (137Cs). Using an extensive radiochemical dataset, the paper examines spatial patterns of long-term sedimentation rates in the Passaic River.
Collapse of Eagle 56
The Collapse of Eagle 56 occurred on January 31, 1912, on the Passaic River in New Jersey. Despite its apparent resiliency, the submarine did not survive the final explosion. The crew did, however, manage to eject the survivors and transfer them to shore. The sub was carrying 32 passengers, including five women. Its crew included an apprentice seamen.
Assigned to the Delaware Capes, Eagle 56 was a surprisingly brave submarine. Its crew was armed with a four-inch/50 cannon mounted forward of the bridge. In addition to this, two Lewis machine guns were installed above the bridge. The Eagle 56 also had a single 50-caliber Browning AA machine gun on the afterdeckhouse. The crew worked in shifts of four-on-four-off shifts.