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Early on, Holland perceived the problems related to building PLUNGER and the growing conflicts with the Navy’s oversight. With difficulty, private financial support (a gift by Mrs. Isaac Lawrence of New York) was found for construction of Holland’s sixth submarine in parallel with the ongoing construction of the Navy-sponsored PLUNGER. It turned out that the new submarine HOLLAND VI was launched in May 1897, several months ahead of PLUNGER.

Not without difficulties and several near tragedies, HOLLAND VI became a reality and was the first underwater craft successfully to combine two means of propulsion: one for the surface. the other for running submerged. Holland’s design with the more efficient Otto engine for surface operation allowed for recharging the batteries used for underwater running. Outstanding operating features included longitudinal stability, quick submergence, enhanced hydrodynamic hull design, and a single torpedo tube and a dynamite gun that could be fired when either awash or submerged.

After the launching, tests of submerging capabilities were met, adjustments made, and a successful dive achieved on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1898. Performance both underwater and at sea in open water demonstrated the boat’s uniqueness and its fulfillment of Holland’s design expectations. Frost brought his media skills to bear, (Elihu B. Frost, a lawyer with The Morris & Cummings Dredging Company with whom Holland was affiliated until 1893. See Part I in THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, July 1998) and HOLLAND VI was brought to the attention of the public.

It was at this juncture that Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, made his previously-cited recommendation for the Navy to negotiate purchase of HOLLAND VI.

By the summer of 1898, the submarine had been through some of its initial tests. A long underwater demonstration exceeded the requirements levied on PLUNGER. The need for some extensive modifications to the stern structure were identified. The Holland Company now required additional fiscal support for these alterations and to defray the cost of more submarine demonstrations for additional Navy scrutiny and convincing. These difficulties and others led Holland to his often quoted comment, “What will the Navy require next? That my boat should be able to climb a tree?”

Isaac L. Rice, a Bavarian emigre and well known successful lawyer and financier, was president of the Electric Storage Battery Company of Philadelphia which provided batteries for HOLLAND VI. After a demonstration ride during the summer on the new submarine, Rice became interested in forming a company to build submarines.

Rice brought his organizational skills and knowledge, including that of an authority in patent law, to the new submarine company and in February 1899 incorporated the Electric Boat Company on the foundations of the acquired Holland Torpedo Boat Company. Needed funds for the modifications to the submarine prior to the Navy’s further testing were now available. The necessary exposure and publicity to convince the Navy to purchase were developed through the skills of both Rice and Frost.

The remodeling of HOLLAND VI was completed towards the end of March 1899. On 25 March, Holland left for Europe on a combination business and pleasure trip. Near the time of his departure, the Company’s secretary, Frost, paid five years of back taxes on all of Holland’s foreign patents-British, German, Swedish and Belgian. This lien on his patents ultimately contributed to Holland’s separation in 1904 from the Electric Boat Company, when he formally resigned. Regarding Holland’s patents, Christman noted “Frost and others gained control of Holland’s foreign patents and had many of his domestic patents assigned to the Electric Boat Company.

In May 1899 the waters off Greenport, Long Island, were selected as a submarine testing site free from heavy water traffic and testing was resumed. Newspapers. weekly periodicals, and reports of rides on the submarine by the press, personnel of foreign navies and friends kept HOLLAND VI in the limelight. One of the prominent riders was Clara Barton. founder of the American Red Cross. She was the first woman to be on board while the submarine submerged. One of these tests off Long Island included a four hour long run which met the approval of the current Naval Board.

The submarine’s performance was successful, but a sale to the Navy had not been made. In the opinion of both Rice and Frost, each of whom possessed excellent lobbying skills, that the best way to sell the submarine was to take it to Washington. This was accomplished by slowly towing the submarine to Washington via an inland passage witnessed by more than 5000 people along the way. 4 The passage included going up the Potomac River and berthing the submarine at the Washington Navy Yard during Christmastime.

Still, a positive decision for the purchase of the submarine was not at hand. On 21 and 24 January 1900, the New York Times reported in headlines “Rejection of the Holland Boat”. and “Reports on the Holland Boat; Majority of the Navy Board Does Not Favor a Purchase”. The negatives regarding the purchase of HOLLAND VI primarily stemmed from the Navy’s previous government expenditures of the order of $90,000 for the unusable PLUNGER.

In March, after a winter of reconditioning and an almost daily showing of HOLLAND VI to various interested personages, an official test course was established on the Potomac River. The one mile course ran from Fort Washington in Maryland to Mount Vernon in Virginia.

On March 14, the day of the major exhibition, a naval tug with press on board towed the submarine to the test site. Two other vessels provided viewing platforms for naval officials including Admiral Dewey, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and House and Senate personnel. Among the crew of HOLLAND VI was Admiral Dewey’s personal assistant, Lieutenant H.H. Caldwell, who later became the first commanding officer of a United States submarine. The submarine demonstrated its obligatory submerging, surfacing, and torpedo firing. Spectators and press alike were duly impressed. There were four more days of successful demonstrations during the next several weeks.

On April 11, 1900, the Navy purchased HOLLAND VI for $150,000 and it was turned over to the Navy on April 30. The Navy Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island was designated as homeport and an all Navy crew was trained by September with the commissioning the following month.

The new submarine was modestly armed with one forward torpedo tube, three Whitehead torpedoes, and a bow-mounted pneumatic dynamite gun. HOLLAND VI was small but was considered the most advanced submarine in the world.


A few months later in September 1900, the newly acquired and only United States submarine participated in naval war games in the Atlantic off Newport, Rhode Island, as part of the defending fleet. During the exercises, Caldwell as Commanding Officer of HOLLAND made the impressive maneuver of bringing the submarine within hailing distance of the hostile flagship KEARSARGE. Caldwell announced to the battleship, “Hello KEARSARGE, you are blown to atoms. This is the HOLLAND.”‘ Caldwell’s action may have been premature, but it was certainly prescient.

The United States now had one submarine and the related technology would gradually grow and improve. Until World War I, 14 years away, acceptance of the submarine would come grudgingly from many quarters (including the Navy), but submarines would be built. It is noteworthy that even after the lessons of World War I and its obvious offensive capability, the submarine in 1919 would be discounted in favor of capital ships as the ultimate naval weapon.’

Between 1900 and 1916, the Electric Boat Company built 49 submarines with the Holland design and patents for the United States Navy. Holland, with his primary patents belonging to the Electric Boat Company and a continuing downgrading of his role, resigned at the end of 1904. Lacking his patents, the Navy in 1907 disavowed Holland’s recent submarine designs. The later years were marked by litigation with his financial backers. One of his last inventions was an apparatus to enable sailors to escape from a damaged submarine. Aircraft and problems of flight were the
focus of his creative energies until his death in 1914 at the brink of World War I.

A tribute to Holland occurred a half-century later. The United States Navy built an experimental test-bed diesel submarine, ALBACORE (AGSS 569), commissioned in 1953 and reconfigured five times (1953 through 1971). In one of the phases, “the control surfaces were moved forward of the propeller, a position which Holland had used in the initial configuration of HOLLAND VI and had changed, under pressure. .. Holland had the right idea after all.”

Commissioned in 1959, the nuclear powered fish-shaped SKIPJACK (SSN 585), which at the time was considered the fastest submarine in the world, reflected Holland’s original naval architectural concepts to give submarines enhanced underwater performance.

The Electric Boat Company, just prior to the sale of HOLLAND VI, had expressions of interest in building submarines from countries such as Turkey, Venezuela, Mexico, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Russia. In the fall of 1900, the Electric Boat Company made licensing arrangements for the construction of Holland submarines with Vickers Sons and Maxim Limited as the builders in Great Britain. Thus, the British submarine fleet became a reality with the Holland patents.

The Congressional Record of 4 December 1902 included the J.P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company and the Electric Boat Company as part of the Military Industrial Complex. Submarine building, although small in the Navy’s budget, was in the national and international limelight.

In 1904, after the recent addition of five Holland-type submarines to its Navy built at the insistence of British Admiral Sir John Fisher, First Sea Lord and creator of Britain’s dreadnaught fleet, he made a most sagacious comment relative to submarines when he said, “In all seriousness, I don’t think it is even faintly realized-the immense impending revolution which the submarine wilt effect as offensive weapons of war.” “Ten years later, in 1914, Lord Fisher wrote in a still more positive vein that the submarine 11 is the coming type of war vessel for sea fighting.”‘

The August 25, 1905 New York times headlined on page 1 “President Takes Plunge in Submarines: Remains Below the Surface for Fifty-five Minutes, He Manoeuvres the Vessel Himself … ” On the same day on the editorial page under “Our Submerged President,” Theodore Roosevelt was cautioned to restrain himself from doing those stunts of adventure.

Accounts of Roosevelt’s adventure indicate that the weather and the sea state on that day were far from ideal. The President’s role during the trial trip was not as passenger but as participant with the crew of seven. At one point in the submarine’s practice dives in the Long Island Sound, the President operated the controls. The submarine was PLUNGER, the Navy’s second submarine, commissioned in 1903 and except for an additional 20 feet in length identical with HOLLAND VI. Following his trip on board PLUNGER, the President issued a directive that enlisted men detailed to submarines be granted an additional $10 per month as hazardous duty pay. ‘ 0 Under his Presidency, the Navy grew in numbers of ships while naval personnel increased from 25,050 in 1901 to 44 ,500 at the end of 1909.

In spite of the obvious shortcomings, the submarine had arrived. By the eve of World War I in 1914, there were 400 submarines in 16 navies. They were not all Holland designs, but his impact was seminal.

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