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Was the first submarine built to sink or swim?

Dive into history: Was the first submarine created to sink ships or just explore? Find out now.

Was the first submarine built to sink or swim?

Where Was the Submarine Invented?

Submarines, underwater vessels primarily designed for stealth and strategic purposes, are an essential component of modern naval forces today. They offer military and scientific benefits and continue to play a crucial role in maritime history. The invention of the submarine, however, dates back centuries ago and has been attributed to various individuals in different parts of the world.

Early Submarine Designs

One of the first recorded attempts at building a submarine was by Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch inventor, in 1620. His vessel was powered by oars and had a leather covering. Despite its primitive construction and unsatisfactory results, it served as a foundation for future designs to come.

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, various inventors contributed to the development of submarines, such as the Turtle, an American submarine built during the American Revolutionary War by David Bushnell in 1775. The Turtle had a turtle-shaped covering, was powered by hand-cranked propellers, and was designed to plant mines on enemy ships. Although it failed to achieve its intended purpose, its design paved the way for further submarines that were built later.

Revolution in Submarine Technology

The introduction of steam engines brought about a revolution in submarine technology. The first practical steam-powered submarine was developed by Frenchman, Robert Fulton, in 1800. The vessel named Nautilus was fueled by coal and was relatively more successful than previous submarines in terms of speed and distance. However, it was not until the mid-1800s that the submarine became a combat weapon. The Confederate States of America used the first successful combat submarine, the H.L. Hunley, during the American Civil War in 1864. The Hunley, a hand-cranked vessel, succeeded in destroying the Union's USS Housatonic, even though it also sank during the mission with its crew of eight.

Despite the success of the Hunley, it is the German inventor, Wilhelm Bauer, who is credited with building the first true submarine in 1850. His vessel, Brandtaucher, was the first submarine to have a propulsion system, diving planes, pressure compensation tanks, and a rigid hull with a conning tower.

In conclusion, although the submarine is often associated with modern technology, the development of the underwater vessel can be traced back to centuries ago. The early submarine designs served as inspiration for future inventors, and the introduction of steam and combustion engines brought the technology to a new level. Submarines have come a long way since their inception and continue to evolve to meet the changing needs, but they owe their history to the daring pioneers who worked on them in the past.

The Birthplace of Modern Submarines

Submarines are often hailed as some of the most advanced machines made by humans. They allow us to explore the depths of the oceans, pursue scientific research, and engage in warfare. But where were submarines invented?

The answer to that question depends on what one classifies as a "submarine." In ancient times, there were already attempts to create underwater vessels that could assist in fishing or warfare. However, these early attempts were more akin to diving bells, and they were not capable of independent, sustained submarine travel. The concept of a true submarine, or at least one that resembled the modern vessels we have today, emerged only in the 19th century.

Nautilus and the Submarine Revolution

The first submarine that historians widely recognize as a true precursor to modern submarines is the Nautilus, built in 1800 by Robert Fulton. The Nautilus resembled a wooden barrel with a pointed front and had a simple propulsion system consisting of oars and sails. It could remain underwater for several hours and travel distances of up to five miles at a time.

The Nautilus did not have immediate commercial success, and submarine technology remained stagnant for several decades, with little innovation being introduced. But the Nautilus did lay the foundation for the development of modern submarines, and it would take nearly a century before the technology would be refined and matured enough to be widely recognized as a valuable tool in war and exploration.

German Innovations

During the First World War, the German navy spearheaded the use of submarines in modern warfare. The country had already invested in submarine technology before the war, and by 1917, it had built more than 100 U-boats that terrorized Allied shipping lanes. The U-Boats proved incredibly effective, sinking millions of tons of cargo and dozens of Allied warships. In fact, U-Boats accounted for more than half of the Allied ships sunk during the war.

The success of these submarines was due to several factors. The German navy invested heavily in improving the durability, speed, and stealth of U-Boats. They introduced diesel engines, which were more efficient than gasoline engines. They also installed snorkels, which allowed the submarine to operate underwater without the need to surface for air. U-Boats could now remain underwater for extended periods, track targets silently, and could escape enemy patrols without being detected.

After the war, Germany was forbidden from building submarines by the Treaty of Versailles, but the advancements in submarine technology that it had achieved inspired other countries to continue research in the field.

World War II and Beyond

The Second World War saw submarines play an even more significant role in warfare. Nearly all the major combatants had invested in submarine technology, and the Atlantic Ocean became a battleground as German U-Boats went up against Allied convoys. The use of submarines allowed each side to disrupt enemy supply chains and controlled the flow of goods across the Atlantic.

World War II saw the introduction of several new technologies, including the Type XXI submarine, which had several features that would become standard in modern submarines: a streamlined hull, better engines, and a larger battery capacity. These innovations allowed for faster and longer underwater travel, which was crucial in modern warfare.

After World War II, submarines continued to play a vital role in naval warfare. The development of nuclear submarines, which could remain underwater for months without resurfacing, enabled powers with nuclear capability to project their power across the globe silently. Nuclear propulsion also allowed for faster and more extended underwater travel for scientific research and exploration.


In conclusion, while the origin of submarines can be traced back to ancient times, the modern submarines that we have today emerged only in the 19th century. The Nautilus, built by Robert Fulton, was the first significant development in submarine technology. The advent of diesel engines and snorkels during World War I saw Germany take the lead in submarine technology, which inspired the further development and refinement of submarines in other countries. With the advent of nuclear-powered submarines and advanced technologies, submarines have become a crucial component of naval, scientific, and exploration missions.

Controversies Surrounding the Invention of the Submarine

The Invention of the Submarine Debate

There are several claims to the invention of the submarine. While some give credit to Simon Lake, others point at John Holland or Bourne. Even William Bourne, an English mathematician, claimed to invent the first working submarine in 1578. However, there is no doubt that these submarines were primitive and not functional.The modern submarine, as we know it, was invented in the 19th century. In 1864, French engineer and sailor FĂ©lix du Temple de la Croix designed and tested a submarine called Gymnote. The Gymnote consisted of two hulls, with one acting as a ballast. It was powered by a two-stroke engine and electric batteries. While many perceived Gymnote as revolutionary, it became the inspiration for the first functional submarine.The main controversy over who invented the submarine persists over three key inventors: John Holland, Simon Lake, and Narciso Monturiol. In 1875 Irish engineer John Holland built his first submarine and went on to develop more advanced versions, including the Holland VI. Holland created a gasoline-powered engine for his vessel, which provided extended diving times and increased range.Simon Lake, on the other hand, designed and built the Argonaut, which was launched in 1898, three years after Holland's vessel. While Holland's vessel was a diesel-electric submarine, Lake's submarine was gasoline-electric powered. Lake was also the inventor of the torpedo tube and the periscope.Finally, Spanish engineer Narciso Monturiol, built one of the first working air-independent submarines, the Ictineo II. Monturiol's design made use of chemical reactions between calcium hypochlorite and alcohol, which allowed the submarine to stay submerged for extended periods. Although Monturiol's submarine had limited success, his achievements were groundbreaking for early submarine builders.

Notable Submarine Inventors

John Holland's contributions to the invention of the modern submarine are widely recognized. His original model of 1875 became the inspiration for other subsequent designs. He went on to develop the Holland VI, which was the first official submarine commissioned by the United States Navy.Simon Lake made vital contributions to the submarine's development. He designed the Argonaut submarine, which was the first submarine to get its power from gasoline. Lake also made improvements to the periscope and torpedo tube.Narciso Monturiol was another notable inventor who advanced the technology behind the submarine. He invented a submarine with an air-independent propulsion system- a unique system for modern submarines, which allowed it to stay submerged for more extended periods than its peers.Apart from these inventors, there have been others who played a role in developing modern submarines. Madsen, Drebbel, and Bushnell are some of the names who contributed significantly to submarine design and engineering.

Submarines Today and in the Future

Submarines are still vital military assets, and their technology continues to advance. The U.S. Navy's Virginia-class submarine represents the latest in submarine technology. These submarines are designed to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance discreetly, damage enemy vessels, and insert special forces on enemy coasts.On the other hand, there has also been progress in commercial submarine design and engineering. Private investors are funding innovative designs such as the Scenic Eclipse Submarine, which features an advanced electric propulsion system, and Leviathan, another promising design for underwater tourism.In conclusion, the invention of the submarine has gone through various controversies. But the contributions of John Holland, Simon Lake, and Narciso Monturiol were monumental. These individuals and others who followed them made their names in history by building the first modern submarine models. Modern submarines continue to evolve, adapting to current needs and emerging technologies, as they remain crucial components of global naval military power and valuable commercial tools.

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