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John Philip Holland

John Philip Holland (Irish language: Seán Pilib Ó hUallacháin / Ó Maolchalann ) (29 February 1840 – 12 August 1914[1]) was an Irish engineer who developed the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy, and the first Royal Navy submarine, the Holland 1. He is widely regarded as the father of the modern submarine for his designs.[2]

Early life

He was one of four brothers who may have been born in Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland[3] 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 Ennistymon.[4]

Holland joined the Irish Christian Brothers in Limerick and taught in Limerick & many other centres in the country including North Monastery CBS in Cork City and as the first Mathematics teacher in Colaiste Ris, Dundalk. Due to ill health, he left the Christian Brothers in 1873.[5]


Holland emigrated to the United States 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.

Development of submarine designs

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.[6] The submarine is now preserved at Paterson Museum, New Jersey.

Holland stands in the hatch of a submarine.

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 at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

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. This company eventually evolved into the major defense contractor General Dynamics.

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 submarines were also developed at the Fore River Ship and Engine Company in Quincy, MA.[citation needed]

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

The Royal Navy 'Holland 1' is on display at the Submarine Museum, Gosport, England


After spending 57 of his 74 years working with submersibles, John Philip Holland died on 12 August 1914 in Newark, New Jersey. Holland is interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey.


See also


  1. John Philip Holland article, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  3. 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.
  4. Holland's background and childhood in Clare and Limerick
  5. The Phoenix, Clare Champion, Friday August 9, 1996
  6. 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.[unreliable source?]
  • 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.[unreliable source?]
  • The Submarine in War and Peace by Simon Lake, published in 1918 by J. P. Lippincott, Philadelphia, PA. See pages 113-118.

Further reading

External links

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