John Philip Holland, father of the modern submarine, was born in Ireland on February 24, 1841. Due to the Irish Potato Famine that had begun in that decade, he lost his father, two uncles and a brother, leaving his mother and two brothers as his remaining family. Since his father was a rider for the Coast Guard, the family was left with a pension after his death, and they moved to Limerick with it in 1853.

It was near Limerick that Holland was first exposed to science, at the Christian Brothers School at Ennistymon. One science instructor in particular, Brother Dominic Burke, encouraged his research into sub-marine craft and manned flight. He had drawn up and mailed to the British government plans for both by the end of the 1850's. During that time he also applied for the merchant marine, but was turned down due to his eyesight, and chose to teach in Limerick and other areas of Ireland instead. This gave him ample time to work on his submarine designs up until 1873, when he was forced to resign his instructorship from bad health. He liquidated his savings and joined the rest of his family, who had moved to Boston, Massachusetts.

Holland submitted a draft specification for a submarine to the U.S. Navy, which was dismissed as a "fantastic scheme of a civilian landsman." Another party, however, was interested -- the Fenian Brotherhood, would-be revolutionaries who aimed to free Ireland from the English. Contact was made through Holland's brother Michael, who was active in the group. They were looking for a craft capable of leaving a box of explosives (a torpedo, in their parlance) near a British warship, and returning to safety before the detonation occurred. The Fenians paid Holland well enough that he could afford to quit teaching, and he finished work on the Fenian Ram in late 1883. Disagreements about Holland's payment forced the Fenians to steal their own boats -- the Ram and a half-scale model -- from harbor, after which they remained hidden and forgotten for thirty years. Holland unsurprisingly severed contact with the revolutionary group after this.

Instead of resuming teaching, Holland went to work as a draftsman for Army Lieutenant Edmond Zalinski, at the eponymous Zalinski Pneumatic Gun Company. Zalinski, true to his own interests and those of Holland, promoted the idea of a submarine which propelled charges with a pneumatic (air pressure driven) gun. In 1883, Holland, along with Zalinski and other investors, formed the Nautilus Submarine Boat Company, named from a Jules Verne book less than twenty years old at the time. The so-called "Zalinski Boat", really named the Holland IV, was completed at Fort Lafayette in 1886. It was to be sold to France for its war in Indochina, but the war was over before the sub was complete.

Due to competing submarine designs being completed and sold to European countries, the U.S. Navy finally became interested in the vehicles in 1888. They announced a competition for the design of a submarine having a list of features over and above those of the European models. Holland's design won this competition, but it was never built. The contest was re-opened in 1893, again Holland won fairly, and again politics kept his design from seeing the shipyards. Finally, in 1895, Holland offered to sell his design to foreign navies, which finally moved the U.S. government to action.

On March 3rd of that year, the recently-formed John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company was given a $200,000 grant to build a submarine with specifications that would embarrass the European competitor. It was to be christened the Plunger. Unfortunately, with the Navy money came Navy oversight, which forced Holland to build in steam power instead of the intended diesel. With no design compensation for the heat of a steam engine, parts of the crew quarters reached 137 Fahrenheit at only 2/3 power. The craft was an abject failure at its 1897 launch, and put Holland's company near bankruptcy.

Holland had realized that the Navy's changes were unworkable in late 1896, and had begun privately funded design and construction of the Holland VI. It was to be smaller and slower, powered by gasoline, and able to stay submerged for forty hours with restroom facilities for the crew. Armaments would include a pneumatic dynamite gun, and a single Whitehead self-propelled torpedo. Public demonstrations of the craft begun in 1897, and Holland even offered to trade another to the Navy for absolution of Plunger debts. Even with then Naval Secretary Theodore Roosevelt's recommendation, the U.S. Navy decided against acquiring the Holland VI. Holland was forced to sell his company, which was renamed the Electric Boat Company.

In 1900 the U.S. Navy accepted a modified Holland VI for $150,000, less than half of its design costs, and ordered construction of five more. With the company's move from design to construction and marketing, John Holland became weary of working for it, and resigned in 1904 at the age of 63. He had drawn up plans for the Holland VII, but was sued by Electric Boat for patent violations and use of the name Holland. Having no money for litigation and the same for development costs, he left submarines behind.

John Phillip Holland died of pneumonia on August 12, 1914. Forty days later -- still at the opening of World War I -- a German U-boat using many of his design features made the first major submarine naval attack, sinking three British cruisers. Holland was survived by two or three of his seven children.

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