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Who Really Invented the First Submarine?

Dive into History: Discovering the Real Inventor of the First Submarine!

Who Really Invented the First Submarine?

Who Invented Submarine First

The invention of the submarine brought a significant change in the world of naval warfare and exploration. It enhanced the reconnaissance and attack capabilities of the navy, making it possible to strike from beneath the sea. The history of the submarine goes back to ancient times, but the first practical submarine was created during the American Revolutionary War. In this article, we will explore the early inventions and pioneers of submarine technology.

The Early Concept of Submarine

The concept of a submersible vehicle was first introduced in ancient Greece, where it was used for underwater surveying and diving operations. The first recorded military submarine is attributed to Alexander the Great, who reportedly created a prototype to explore the depths of the Mediterranean. It was a wooden cylinder fitted with glass in the center for observation purposes.

During the Renaissance era, the concept of a submarine began to take shape, and many scientists and inventors came up with several designs, although none were practical or operational. In 1578, English mathematician William Bourne proposed a design that resembled a modern submarine, with a cylindrical hull and conning tower for observation. However, the lack of propulsion system and weaponry made it impractical for military use.

The First Submarine Design

The most notable designer of the submarine during the Renaissance period is none other than the polymath Leonardo da Vinci. His design, sketched between 1513-1515, was based on a wooden barrel with leather covers and was meant to be manually propelled using oars and hand-cranked propellers. It had a single conning tower at the top for observation, and the crew could change the air inside the barrel by using a breathing tube.

Despite being a brilliant design ahead of its time, da Vinci's submarine was never built, and the idea remained dormant until the 17th century.

The First Submarine in Operation

The first workable submarine was created by an American inventor, David Bushnell, in 1775, during the American Revolutionary War. Bushnell's submarine, widely known as Turtle, was built from wood and covered in tar and reinforced with iron bands. It had two propellers and was propelled manually by a crew of one or two people. The top of the Turtle was covered with a turtle shell-shaped container that served as both a conning tower and a hatch for ingress and egress of the crew.

The Turtle's most significant feature was its ability to hold underwater explosives that could be attached to enemy ships. The design included a screwdriver-like device that the operator could use to attach the explosive to the bottom of the ship's hull secretly.

The Turtle had many shortcomings, such as limited air supply, poor maneuverability, and a high risk of drowning if the vessel were to sink too deep. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the feasibility of submersible technology and paved the way for modern submarine technology.


Submarine technology has come a long way since the ancient Greeks used it for underwater surveys. While Leonardo da Vinci may have been one of the first people to sketch the design of a workable submarine, the first operational one was created by David Bushnell in 1775. With technological advancements and the development of nuclear-powered submarines, submarines have become an essential part of military strategy and scientific exploration.

Submarine Developments in the 19th Century

In the early days of submarine developments, several designs were created, but none were practical or effective for warfare until the 19th century. This was when the first actual submarines were developed and utilized in warfare. In this article, we will highlight some of the significant submarine inventions that were made during this period.

The Nautilus

One of the significant inventions during this period was the Nautilus, designed by the French inventor, Robert Fulton in 1800. The Nautilus was the first practical submarine to be used in actual warfare, but it was not very effective. The Nautilus had a single propeller and was powered by a hand-crank, which made it challenging to maneuver. It was a small submarine, measuring only 6 meters long and 1.5 meters high, but it had some failings that made it less effective for military purposes.

The Nautilus' design was unique in that it used a system of weighted ballast tanks to control its movement underwater. The submarine had four ballast tanks that could be opened or closed using valves. When the tanks were opened, water would enter, causing the submarine to sink, and when they were closed, the submarine would rise to the surface. This system allowed for the submarine to be submerged while controlling its depth and movement. However, the system was not without risks as the valves could jam and cause the submarine to sink, leading to fatal accidents.

The Hunley

The Confederate Navy of the American Civil War built a submarine called the Hunley in 1863, which became the first submarine to sink a warship. The Hunley was a hand-cranked submarine operated by an 8-man crew and powered by a single propeller. It was a small submarine, measuring only 12 meters long and 1.2 meters high. This submarine had a unique feature that made it deadly. Rather than using torpedoes as weapons, the Hunley had a long spar that protruded from the front of the submarine and was used to ram and sink enemy vessels.

The Hunley was involved in several battles, but its most notable achievement was sinking the USS Housatonic, a sloop of war in February 1864. Unfortunately, the Hunley also faced several setbacks as it was involved in three accidents, which claimed the lives of all its crew members, including its inventor, Horace Hunley.

The Submarine as a Weapon of War

With the invention of the torpedo, submarines became a formidable weapon in modern warfare and were used extensively in both World Wars. Torpedoes are self-propelled underwater missiles that could be fired from the submarine and targeted at enemy ships. This weapon was first developed by the British engineer, Robert Whitehead, in 1866. Torpedoes revolutionized submarine warfare, making submarines a crucial component in military operations at sea.

During World War I, Germany had a fleet of 360 submarines that they used to attack Allied ships, sinking over 5,000 of them. This resulted in a naval blockade that severely affected the Allied powers' food supply and led to the introduction of convoy systems to protect merchant ships.

In conclusion, the development of submarines in the 19th century was a significant milestone in naval warfare. While early submarine designs were not very effective, the inventions of the Nautilus and the Hunley paved the way for more advanced submarine designs in the future. The submarine's importance was highlighted during World Wars when they became a crucial weapon in military operations at sea.

Submarine Innovations in the 20th Century

The 20th century proved to be a significant time in the development of submarines. It was a century that marked several technological advancements in design and functionality. Several countries; including Germany, France, and the United States; invested a considerable amount of resources into creating submarines that could travel underwater with ease. The following sections will explore some of the most notable innovations that surfaced during this era.

The First Nuclear-Powered Submarine

The USS Nautilus, commissioned in 1954, represented a significant leap in submarine technology. It held the title of the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, meaning it could stay underwater for months at a time, whereas other subs could last only a few days beneath the surface. The USS Nautilus's nuclear-powered engine was far more efficient than traditional diesel submarines.

Another crucial advantage of this innovation was that subs like the USS Nautilus could move faster and remain undetected for longer periods. The Nautilus could travel nearly twenty-two knots underwater, making it almost entirely silent, which was a game-changer in submarine technology.

The Submarine in Exploration

Contrary to what many believe, submarines aren't just for naval purposes. Since the early 20th century, submarines have been used for scientific purposes. The exploration of the deep oceans was one area where submarines had a crucial contribution. By the mid-20th century, submarines were regularly sent down to the depths of the ocean with sophisticated research equipment to collect data, such as temperature and pressure measurements, and oceanographic samples.

The American Navy made several contributions to deep sea exploration using submarines. Among the most significant was the Trieste, which, in 1960, successfully descended into the trench of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the ocean. These explorations were important because they led to a greater understanding of the ocean and its various inhabitants.

The Future of Submarine Technology

Submarine technology is an area that continues to evolve. One of the most recent developments in design is the use of unmanned submarines, which have the potential to revolutionize how naval operations are conducted. These unmanned subs can operate for extended periods without human personnel, making them safer and more efficient.

Their stealth design and potential for advanced weaponry make unmanned submarines an attractive option for many countries. Their speed and agility make them ideal for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. In addition, these unmanned subs could be used for surveillance and patrols in many commercial activities, such as oil exploration.

Advances in technology and materials science continue to make submarines more durable and efficient. As they continue making new breakthroughs, there is no doubt that submarines will remain a vital component in naval operations and exploration work.

Conclusion: Submarine Evolution and Legacy

The development of the submarine has been an exciting and transformative process that has had an impact on both naval warfare strategy and scientific exploration. Throughout history, there have been numerous individuals and entities that have played a role in this evolution, raising the question, who invented the submarine first?

Impact on Naval Warfare

Submarines have revolutionized naval warfare tactics and strategy. They are essential to modern day military fleets and have been responsible for numerous naval victories throughout history. The use of submarines in warfare first began during the American Civil War, with the Confederate Submarine, "H.L. Hunley," being the first submarine to launch a successful attack on a enemy ship. This event paved the way for submarine technology to become an integral part of naval warfare. In addition, the German U-boats in World War I were infamous for their dominance in naval warfare, sinking a significant amount of enemy ships. Since then, submarines have continued to be an important aspect of naval strategy, and their role only continues to grow with technological advancements in the field.

Contribution to Scientific Exploration

Submarines have not only impacted naval warfare, they have also made it possible to explore and understand the depths of the ocean. When Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan invented the Aqua-Lung in 1943, a device that allowed divers to breathe underwater, the door opened to a whole new world of underwater exploration. Soon after, the Swiss inventor Auguste Piccard developed a submersible that could descend up to 330 feet below sea level. Other submersibles such as the Deepsea Challenger have been used to explore the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. The discoveries made by underwater exploration have led to scientific advancements in our understanding of marine life and the environment.

Legacy of the Submarine

The legacy of the submarine is a rich and complex one that continues to have a major impact on both naval warfare and scientific exploration. The advancements in submarine technology have led to significant developments in nuclear power, navigation, and sonar technology. These advancements have also made it possible for researchers to study the oceans and the life within them in greater detail. Today, submarines continue to play a critical role in our military and scientific endeavors, and their impact will certainly continue into the future.

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