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John Holland, often been called the "Father of the U.S. Submarine Force," designed the USS Holland (SS-1), the Navy's first submarine. Holland was born in Liscannor, Ireland on February 24, 1841. Because poor eyesight prevented his becoming a sailor, he became a teacher with the Order of the Irish Christian Brothers in 1858. Holland's interest in submarines was kindled in 1869, after reading accounts of the U.S. Navy’s submarine Intelligent Whale. He came to the United States in 1873.

While working as a teacher in Paterson, New Jersey, Holland designed his first submarine. The Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish independence movement to which Holland's brother belonged, financed his work as a way to challenge British control of the seas. With Fenian funding, he built three submarines, Holland I, II (named Fenian Ram), and III. In November 1883, Fenians unhappy with Holland’s slow progress stole the Fenian Ram. The submarine, however, was never operated successfully. Holland began working in 1884 for U.S. Army Lieutenant Edmund Zalinski’s Pneumatic Gun Company, which financed Holland IV, also known as the Zalinski Boat, in 1885. At this time Holland met U.S. Navy Lieutenant William W. Kimball, who began lobbying the Navy Department for submarines.

In 1888, the Navy announced a competition for a "submarine torpedo boat." The competition called for a boat that could travel for 90 hours at 15 knots on the surface or eight knots submerged. The boat had to dive successfully to 150 feet, and achieve a tactical diameter (turning ability) less than four times her length. The submarine had to have positive buoyancy at all times except when diving. Holland won the competition, but no contract was awarded. Holland then began working as a draftsman for the Morris and Cummings Dredging Company, where he met lawyer Elihu Frost, who agreed to fund his next submarine design.

Holland entered and won the Navy's next submarine competition in 1893, with Holland V the Plunger. Holland modified this design and the result, Holland VI, was launched on May 17, 1897. She began sea trials on March 11, 1898. Holland sent the Navy the specifications for Holland VI in late 1899, and Holland's supporters mounted a strong lobbying campaign. On April 11, 1900, the Navy purchased Holland VI. The submarine was commissioned in the Navy as USS Holland (SS-1) on October 12, 1900.

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Simon Lake competed with John Holland to build the first submarines for the U.S. Navy. Born in Pleasantville, New Jersey on September 4, 1866, Lake joined his father's foundry business after attending public schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Lake had a strong interest in undersea travel. He built his first submarine, Argonaut, in 1894 in response to an 1893 request from the Navy for a submarine torpedo boat. Neither Argonaut nor Lake's following submarine, the Protector, built in 1901, were accepted by the Navy. Protector was the first submarine to have diving planes mounted forward of the conning tower and a flat keel. Four diving planes allowed Protector to maintain depth without changing ballast levels. Protector also had a lock-out chamber for divers to leave the submarine. Lake, lacking Holland's financial backers, was unable to continue building submarines in the United States. He sold the Protector to the Russian Navy in 1904 and spent the next seven years in Europe designing submarines for the Austrian, German, and Russian navies. When he returned to the United States in 1912, he founded the Lake Torpedo Boat Company, which built 24 submarines for the U.S. Navy during and after World War I. Lake's first submarine for the U.S. Navy, G-1 set a submergence record of 256 feet in November 1912. Financial difficulties forced the Lake Torpedo Boat Company to close in the mid-1920s. Following company closure, Lake continued designing maritime salvage systems, and advised the U.S. Navy on submarine technology and maritime salvage during World War II. By his death on June 23, 1945, Lake had witnessed the submarine's arrival as a front-line weapon in the U.S. Navy.

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Born in 1853, Charles A. Morris came from a family of engineers and inventors. He worked for the engineering and dredging firm of Morris and Cummings. Morris provided welcome support for John Holland during those years when most engineers scoffed at the inventor’s Fenian Ram. He also collaborated with Holland on plans for a heavier-than-air flying machine in the 1870s. Holland actually joined the firm of Morris and Cummings in 1890 to keep himself financially solvent while he worked on refining his plans for the vessels that would succeed the Fenian Ram. It was through Morris that Holland met E.B. Frost, whose family connections brought Holland’s submarine-boat ideas to the attention of the Navy Department. When Holland VI, the future SS-1, began to take shape at Lewis Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport, New Jersey. In 1896-1897, Frost, one of Holland’s continuing benefactors, persuaded Morris to serve as shipyard superintending engineer on the submarine project. Morris guided the project over many hurdles, including an accidental sinking at the Nixon pier and the subsequent complete overhaul of the electrical system. He left the project only after running afoul of Isaac Rice, founder of the Electric Boat Company, in 1900, shortly before the acceptance of the SS-1 by the U.S. Navy. Morris remained a close friend and advisor to Holland until they both died on the eve of the Great War in 1914.

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Rear Admiral William W. Kimball was born in Paris, Maine on January 9, 1848. An 1869 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he specialized in torpedoes and became one of the first officers assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport Rhode Island in 1870. He encountered John Holland, the submarine inventor, at a dinner held on board the flagship of the Naval Artillery Station, Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1883. The two men had an extensive discussion about basic submarine principles of design and performance. The exchange immediately convinced Kimball of the importance of Holland's submarine concepts. Thereafter Kimball played an important role in submarine and self-propelled torpedo development. As an ordnance officer, Kimball worked tirelessly to bring Holland’s work and its significance to the attention of the Navy Department and the Congress. He earnestly desired that the Navy acquire the Holland patents and conduct submarine research and development to achieve the desired level of operational performance. Navy officials rejected his advice and Kimball watched as the Electric Boat Company formed and took over the Holland effort. In his retirement years he lobbied extensively for both the torpedo boat and the submarine. He argued that both would prove significant to American ambitions as the United States became a world power at the end of the nineteenth century. Admiral Kimball died in Washington D.C. on January 26, 1930.

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Elihu Frost, an early supporter and financial backer of John Holland, provided crucial early support. Frost met Holland in 1893 and agreed to finance his efforts to develop his submarine concept. When Congress passed a $200,000 appropriation for an experimental submarine, Frost supplied funding that allowed Holland to enter the 1893 submarine competition. Holland won this competition and received a government contract, but Naval interference in the construction led Holland to ask Frost to privately fund an improved design for a new boat. Frost agreed to fund further development work and formed the Holland Torpedo Boat Company in 1893. Work began on the famous Holland VI. Frost, as secretary-treasurer, supplied the organizational and financial skills that attracted additional financial backing for the company. When Holland failed to receive a contract from the Navy in 1893, Frost agreed to privately fund construction of his next submarine, known as Holland VI. In February 1899 Frost helped Isaac Rice, another of Holland's financiers, merge the Holland Torpedo Boat Company with his Electric Boat Company. Frost retained his title of Secretary-Treasurer and became the overlord of the company's submarine program. His aggressive pursuit of international patents for Holland's designs gave Electric Boat the bargaining power to win the contract for a submarine in March of 1899. By April 1900, when the Navy finally purchased Holland VI, Frost had taken a lead role in the program, while Holland's influence diminished rapidly. Frost helped Isaac Rice, Electric Boat's President, negotiate the sale of plans for Holland-type submarines to the British, Japanese, and Dutch navies between 1902 and 1904.

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Isaac Rice, a railroad and electrical power magnate, was another financial backer of John Holland. He provided the funding to build the submarine Holland VI, which the Navy bought and renamed USS Holland (SS-1) on April 11, 1900. Rice was president of the Electro-Dynamic Company, which made the batteries for the Holland VI, in 1896. Rice was aboard Holland VI during sea trials in the summer of 1898 and came away highly impressed. He provided Holland with the funding to continue sea trials during 1898 and 1899. In February 1899, Rice formed with Electric Boat Company with the Holland Torpedo Boat Company as a major subsidiary. Rice retained control of the Electric Boat Company. Rice, along with Washington attorney and lobbyist Charles Creecy, decided to bring Holland VI to Washington, D.C. in late 1899 so that senior Navy officials could witness the submarine's sea trials. Following the Navy's purchase of Holland VI, Rice concentrated on building and selling submarines according to U.S. Navy requirements. Rice negotiated the sale of plans for Holland-type submarines to the British, Japanese, and Dutch navies between 1902 and 1904.

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Arthur L. Busch, was descended from a family of French Huguenots, originally known as du Busc, that had settled in England. Busch was born on 5 March 1866 in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, England, not far from the North Sea. He was apprenticed as a draftsman and moved to Belfast, Ireland, where he worked at Harland and Wolff shipbuilders. In 1892 Busch emigrated to the U.S. and began working as a draftsman at the William Cramp and Sons shipyard in Philadelphia. While at Cramps he met Navy Lieutenant Lewis Nixon and ultimately went to work as Chief Constructor at Nixon's Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport, New Jersey. Here he met John P. Holland and began an 18-year friendship with the Irish-American submarine designer. Busch supervised construction of Holland's sixth submarine, launched in 1897 and commissioned as the USS Holland in 1900. Busch then supervised the construction of Fulton, the prototype for the U.S. Navy's Holland-designed A-class submarines. When the Crescent Shipyard lost the contract for the B-class submarine Nixon began building an export model of the A-class. In 1904 Busch traveled to Japan, then at war with Russia, to supervise the assembly of five submarines at Yokosuka. For this work Japanese Emperor Matsuhito awarded Busch the "The Meiji Decoration 4th Class Merit, Rising Sun Ribbon." Busch continued work in ship design and was a shipbuilding consultant during World War II. He died in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1956. Of Busch, John Holland wrote, "He is an expert naval architect and shipbuilder... He is a man of the strictest integrity, a hustler and born manager of men."

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August Busch, (no relation to Arthur L. Busch), although better known for brewing than for submarines, did play a role in the early days of the U.S. Navy's submarine force. In 1898 he bought the American rights to Rudolf Diesel’s engineering patents and formed the American Diesel Company to produce the engines. John Holland considered diesel engines for the Holland VI, but negotiations between the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and the American Diesel Company in May 1899 failed to produce an agreement. The American Diesel Company was reorganized in 1912 as the Busch-Sulzer Company. It first supplied diesel engines to the G-class submarines built by Simon Lake in 1911. These engines proved superior to the diesel engines built by New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) that the Navy bought for the E-class submarines in 1911. (Prior to the E-class, submarines relied on gasoline internal combustion engines for surface propulsion. These gasoline engines were prone to trouble and gave off hazardous, explosive vapors.) Busch-Sulzer competed with NELSECO for additional submarine engine orders between 1916 and 1919. By 1919, the Navy regarded Busch-Sulzer engines as more reliable than NELSECO engines. Because of the limited rate of submarine construction during the 1920s, Busch-Sulzer began concentrating on other diesel engine applications. When the Navy began building up the submarine force during the 1930s, Fairbanks Morse became the Navy's primary supplier.

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Charles Creecy, a Washington D.C. attorney, served as legal counsel for the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and the Electric Boat Company. His knowledge of Washington politics and the key personalities in the Navy Department were vital in helping Holland receive the contracts and favorable hearing that he did. Creecy met Holland in 1893 through attorney Calvin Frost, the father of Elihu Frost. Creecy advised Holland to take the Holland VI to Washington in late 1899 to allow senior Navy officials to view the submarine. Creecy ensured that Captain John Lowe was present at the Holland VI's critical tests and was kept appraised of favorable developments during the trials. Creecy resigned from Electric Boat in 1903 following disagreements over company policies with other company officials. Creecy remained a close friend and advisor to Holland until Holland died in 1914.

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Frank Cable, a Philadelphia engineer, served as test captain for the submarine Holland VI during her early trials in New York harbor in 1898 and 1899. Cable was working for the Electro-Dynamic Company in 1897 when the Holland VI sank at pier side. Cable reversed the current through the armatures and repaired the submarine's motors. While conducting the repairs, he inspected Holland VI and became highly impressed with the potential and capabilities of the submarine. John Holland, in turn was impressed by Cable's methodical approach to engineering problems. Cable joined the Holland Torpedo Boat Company on March 26, 1898. During the Holland VI's sea trials, Cable suggested moving the rudder and stern diving planes aft of the propeller to ease submarine handling. Following the Holland VI's acceptance by the Navy, Cable traveled to Great Britain, Japan, and Russia to train the crews for the Holland-designed submarines being used by the British, Japanese, and Russian navies. Following his return to the United States in 1905, Cable worked as a superintendent at the Electric Boat shipyard and directed submarine construction operations. Cable became general manager of the Electric Boat Company in 1930.

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Captain John T. Lowe helped the submarine force bridge the gap between ambition and reality. Born in Liverpool in 1838 and educated in engineering, Lowe emigrated from England to the United States to join the Second Ohio Regiment in 1861 during the American Civil War. He transferred to the Navy in August 1861 after recovering from wounds sustained in the First Battle of Bull Run. From 1898 to 1900 Lowe participated in the final series of tests that precipitated the Navy's purchase of the submarine Holland VI, which was commissioned as the USS Holland (SS-1). As the Navy’s Chief Engineer, he helped navigate the vessel during tests in November 1898. On 5 November 1899, Lowe and Commander W.H. Emory went to sea on board Holland VI during the vessel's acceptance trials and recommended her purchase to the Secretary of the Navy. Onboard another Holland design in October of 1901, Lowe and six others spent fifteen hours submerged in Peconic Bay at the eastern end of Long Island. This endurance test proved that extended submergence was indeed possible.

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Commander Harry H. Caldwell, USNR, born in St. Louis Missouri in 1873, became the first naval submarine commanding officer when he assumed command of USS Holland [SS-1] on October 12, 1900. Caldwell served in the Spanish-American War on board the cruiser USS Olympia as flag secretary to Admiral George Dewey at the battle of Manila Bay. Caldwell was Dewey's flag secretary at New York in March 1900, when the Holland VI was undergoing its final sea trials on the Potomac River. Caldwell was highly impressed by the new craft and requested to serve aboard her when she became a commissioned warship. Caldwell commanded Holland VI during it's pre commissioning trials off Newport, Rhode Island in August 1900. During the trials, Caldwell closed to within torpedo range of the cruiser USS Kearsarge, flagship of the U.S. Navy's North Atlantic Squadron, without being detected.

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Lawrence York (L.Y.) Spear was active in the submarine community as a naval officer and civilian industrialist for more than half a century. Born in Warren, Ohio on October 23, 1870, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1890. After a short tour on surface ships, he joined the Construction Corps in 1891. Spear was the naval officer (naval constructor) assigned to supervise construction at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport, New Jersey, from 1900 through 1902. John Holland's earliest submarines were being constructing for the Navy during this period. In late 1902 Spear resigned his commission and went to work as a naval architect for the Electric Boat Company, the successor to the Holland Torpedo Boat Company. Spear argued with John Holland about design variations. This began the slide of Holland's influence at Electric Boat and was a significant influence on his decision to resign from the company. Spear called for designs that were optimized for surface performance and ocean cruising, rather than the pure submarines that John Holland favored. As President of Electric Boat from 1942 to 1947, Spear ran the company during World War II, when the company was a leading producer of submarines. From 1947 to 1950 he served as chairman of the board of Electric Boat. L.Y. Spear died at Groton, Connecticut on September 9, 1950, two years before the keel was laid for USS Nautilus (SSN-571). Nautilus was the world's first nuclear-powered submarine.

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