Holland Submarines

The Fenien Ram at the Paterson Museum

Excerpts from the Paterson Visitor Center's Historic Notes: The Invention of Holland's Submarine

The son of a Coastguardsman, John Philip Holland was born in 1841 in Liscannor Bay, County Clare, on the Western coast of Ireland. After receiving a common school education in his native town, Holland taught in various parts of Ireland from 1858 to 1872. During this time, he conceived the idea of an underwater boat and as a patriot, how it might be used against the British Navy to secure Irish independence. He studied the scanty literature of undersea effort including the work of Bourne, Bushnell, and Fulton. The discouraging failures of these experimenters did not deter Holland and by 1870 he had prepared plans for a submarine boat. Since he lacked financial means to proceed with construction, he laid aside his plans.

In November 1873, Holland emigrated to the United States taking up residence in Boston. A few months later, he was invited to Paterson by Father Whalen to teach mathematics at St. John's Parochial School. Holland resided in Paterson on Willis Street (now Park Avenue) until 1883.

In February 1875, Holland offered his submarine design plan to the United States Navy. It was quickly rejected as an absurd scheme of a civilian landsman.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood or Fenian Society then came to his support and financed his first experimental craft, Holland I.

The Holland I, 14 feet long by 3 feet across by 4 feet high and weighing 2.25 tons, was built at the iron works on Albany Street in New York City and moved to the machine shop of L.C. Todd company in Paterson in the spring of 1878. Here, a petroleum engine patented in 1874 by George Brayton was installed for propulsion. Trials of the craft were conducted in the Passaic River from Lister's Boathouse above the Great Falls. Finally, on June 6, 1878, Holland successfully completed two runs during which the boat was totally submerged at a depth of twelve feet and traveled at the speed of three and a half miles per hour. The maximum submergence time was about one hour.

This success encouraged Holland and his financial backers to build a larger boat, one that had fittings for armaments. In the interest of secrecy, Holland removed the engine and other machinery from Boat #1 and scuttled the hull in 14 feet of water just above the Spruce Street bridge. There it lay at the bottom of the river until 1927 when it was located, minus its turret, by a group of Paterson citizens. It was successfully raised and presented to the Paterson Museum.

Plaque Marking Site of Sunken Holland I

Holland wrote: After having determined the correctness of my ideas regarding submarines, and adding a few points revealed by the experiments in the Passaic River, my financial supporters, the trustees of the Fenian Skirmishing Fund, determined to build a larger boat that could be employed for breaking blockades. Toward the end of May 1879, I started to design a new boat of about 19 tons displacement, one small and light enough to be carried on a ship's deck and launched overboard whenever her services would be required. Only three men were required for her crew. She was built at the shops of the Delameter Iron Works, at the foot of West 13th Street, New York and was launched in May 1881.

The construction of Holland II attracted considerable attention in the press. Blakely Hall, a reporter for the New York Sun, wrote a full account of the launching of Holland II. He named the boat Fenian Ram, a name well chosen to indicate Holland's sponsors and intended use of the vessel.

The three-man Ram was thirty-one feet overall, six feet in beam, over seven feet high, and weighed nineteen tons. It was ruggedly constructed of eleven-sixteenths charcoal flange iron, and her ramming power, as estimated by Holland, was 50 tons. For power, the Ram used an improved Brayton petroleum engine rated at fifteen horsepower, which allowed the boat to achieve a speed of nine miles per hour on the surface.

An astute observer of nature, Holland strove to imitate the form of a porpoise in his submarines, of which he designed six, with only the Holland I and Fenian Ram (Holland II) surviving, both on permanent exhibition at the Paterson Museum. Holland's final design, Holland VI, built in 1897, became the first vessel in the U.S. Naval Submarine Fleet (US Holland, commissioned October 12, 1900). Designers of the first half of the twentieth century failed to heed Holland's simple hydrodynamic principles; and it was not until the construction of the diesel powered Albacore and nuclear powered Skipjack, more than seventy years later that naval architects revived Holland's ideas.

In 1883, members of the Irish Fenian Brotherhood stole the Fenien Ram in a disagreement over money. They took it to New Haven, Connecticut, and soon discovered that no one except Holland could operate it. Holland refused to help the Brotherhood, so they hauled ashore the Ram and placed it in a lumber shed on the Mill River. In 1916, it was taken to Madison Square Garden in New York City where it was exhibited in order to raise funds for victims of the Irish Uprising. Afterwards, it was moved to the grounds of the New York State Marine School. In 1927, Edward A. Browne purchased the Fenian Ram and moved it to Westside Park in Paterson, New Jersey. Here it remained until being moved to its present location in the Paterson Museum.

The Fenien Ram in Westside Park


Related Links:

History of Submarines

John Philip Holland and His Submarines

The Paterson Museum