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John Philip Holland

John Philip Holland ( ) (29 February, 1840 – 2 August, 1914) was an engineer who developed the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy (though not the first American submarine, see American Civil War submarines, and the earlier Nautilus and Turtle) and the first ever Royal Navy submarine, the Holland 1.


Early life

He was one of four brothers who may have been born in Liscannormarker, County Claremarker, Irelandmarker to an Irish speaking mother, Máire Ní Scannláin, and John Holland, and learned English properly only when he attended the local English-speaking National School system and, from 1858, in the Christian Brothers in Ennistymonmarker.Holland joined the Irish Christian Brothers in Limerickmarker and taught in Limerick and many other centres in the country. Due to ill health, he left the Christian Brothers in 1873.

He and his brother, Mícheál, were both active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the precursor to the Irish Republican Army. Mícheál introduced the inventor to the revolutionary group. Holland and the Fenians conceived a plan to develop a small submarine that could be sealifted on a large merchant ship to an area near an unsuspecting British warship. The submarine would then be released from the bottom of the merchant vessel and attack the warship.

Development of submarine designs

Holland emigrated to the United Statesmarker in 1873. Initially working for an engineering firm, he returned to teaching again for a further six years in St. John’s Catholic School in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1875, his first submarine designs were submitted for consideration by the U.S. Navy, but turned down as unworkable. The Fenians, however, continued to fund Holland's research and development expenses at a level that allowed him to resign from his teaching post. In 1881, Fenian Ram was launched, but soon after, Holland and the Fenians parted company angrily, primarily due to issues of payment within the Fenian organization, and between the Fenians and Holland. The submarine is now preserved at Paterson Museum, New Jersey.

Holland continued to improve his designs and worked on several experimental boats, prior to his successful efforts with a privately built type, launched on 17 May, 1897. This was the first submarine having power to run submerged for any considerable distance, and the first to combine electric motors for submerged travel and gasoline engines for use on the surface. She was purchased by the U.S. Navy (on 11 April, 1900) after rigorous tests and was commissioned on 12 October, 1900 as USS Holland. Six more of her type were ordered and built under the supervision of Arthur Leopold Busch, the head of construction at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey and the same shipyard (and man) where the USS Holland (SS-1) was developed. The company that emerged from under these developments was called The Electric Boat Company, founded on 7 February, 1899. Isaac Leopold Rice became the company's first President with Elihu B. Frost acting as vice president and chief financial officer.

The USS Holland design was also adopted by others, including the Royal Navy in developing the Holland class submarine. The Imperial Japanese Navy employed a modified version of the basic design for their first five submarines, although these submarines were at least 10 feet longer at about 63 feet. These Imperial Japanese Naval Submarines were also developed by Holland's confidant, Arthur L. Busch at the Fore River Ship and Engine Companymarker in Quincy, MA.

John Philip Holland also designed the Holland II and Holland III prototypes.

After spending 57 of his 74 years working with submersibles, John Philip Holland died in August of 1914 in Newark, New Jerseymarker.

Holland is interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jerseymarker.

A dramatization of Holland's life was written by playwright Aidan Harney


  • Screw Propeller
  • Hydrocarbon Engine
  • Submergible
  • Submarine Gun
  • Steering Apparatus
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submerigible Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Visual Indicator
  • Auto Dive Mechanism
  • Auto Ballast
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Firing Valve
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Gun
  • Submarine Boat
  • Submarine Boat


  1. John Philip Holland article, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  2. Source: Lecture by Pat Sweeney, Maritime Institute of Ireland 16 January 2009: His father was a member of the Coastguard and occupied a coastguard cottage. There were no coastguard cottages or station in Liscannor.
  3.;; Holland's background and childhood in Clare and Limerick
  4. The Phoenix, Clare Champion, Friday August 9, 1996
  5. Davies, R. Nautilus: The Story of Man Under the Sea. Naval Institute Press. 1995. ISBN 1-55750-615-9.
  • John Philip Holland, Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.
  • Who Built Those Subs? Naval History Magazine, Oct. 1998 125th Anniversary issue, pp.31-34. Richard Knowles Morris PhD. Published by the USNI Annapolis, MD.
  • International Directory of Company Histories, Volume 86 under General Dynamics/Electric Boat Corporation, July, 2007. Pages 136-139. Published by St. James Press/Thomposon Gale Group.
  • The Defender, The Story of General Dynamics, by Roger Franklin. Published by Harper & Row 1986.
  • The Submarine in War and Peace by Simon Lake, published in 1918 by J. P. Lippincott, Philadelphia, PA. See pages 113-118.

Further reading

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