Every now and then I get to put the other half of my double-major to work and research and write some history…. 

Plumbing the Depths of History to Find the Father of the Submarine

Submarines, by dint of their function, are mysterious craft. Whether used in warfare to evade detection by gliding under the seas, or as explorers plumbing the depths of the ocean, submarines are generally out of sight, and thus their movement and activity is usually unseen and more likely to be imagined or portrayed by Hollywood than actually witnessed.

As with their craft, the inventors of the submarine are mysterious as well. When asked who invented the submarine, some people might be able to name “Bushnell,” “Fulton,” or “Hunley.” But these men were innovators of the submarine, not the “father,” or inventor who actually produced the first working submarine. American inventor David Bushnell built the first submarine that actually attacked an enemy warship, but his craft–known as “Turtle”–failed in its 1776 attack on a British warship in New York Harbor. The American inventor Robert Fulton built a working submarine for the British Navy called “Nautilus,” which successfully dived to 25 feet, but was never able to get close to the French ships it was charged with attacking, so the English scrapped the program and fired Fulton. And Confederate States of America designers working under Horace Hunley built the “C.S.S. Hunley,” which became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship, the U.S.S. Housatonic, sunk in Charleston Harbor on Feb. 17, 1864.

While the above mentioned men were instrumental in the evolution of the submarine, their efforts would not likely have been possible without the earlier work of Dutch inventor Cornelis Drebbel, the father of the submarine.

Born in Alkmaar, Holland in 1572, Drebbel was believed to have limited education, but was apprenticed as a young man to famous Dutch engraver Hendrick Goltzius, who was also a practicer of alchemy, an art that he likely passed on to his young charge. Drebbel set up his own engraving and map publishing business in 1595, but also began working on mechanical inventions. His invention of a perpetual motion clock operated by changes in atmospheric pressure attracted the attention of the English King James I, who invited Drebbel to serve on his court in 1604. Drebbel produced a perpetual mobile, hydraulic organ and optical instruments while at the court, but due to his acumen with fireworks, was considered more of a court “entertainer” than an inventor.

In 1610 he was invited to serve at the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, but he is not thought to have produced any inventions of note during his time there, perhaps due to political strife and court intrigue. He returned in England in 1613, and at some point was hired by the English Royal Navy where he primarily worked on the development of explosive devices, but also began development of a submarine.

Drebbel bult his first operational submarine in 1620, in part by using designs for a submarine drawn by English mathematician William Bourne in 1578. Drebbel incorporated many aspects of this 1578 design, but reportedly did not adopt its screw-driven flood chamber that changed the volume of water in the craft to make it dive or climb.

According to some accounts, this first submarine was a rowboat enclosed by raised sides that met and were covered with greased leather, and featured a watertight opening at the top. The submarine was fitted with a rudder in the stern and two oarsman’s positions per side, with the oars fitted through leather skin gaskets of sorts. Large pigskin bladders were positioned under each seat, with pipes running from the bladders through the hull and a rope used to stem the ingress of any water. When ready to dive, the crew untied the ropes to allow the bladders to fill, and when ready to surface the crew would squeeze the bladders to push the water out. The submarine was also reportedly fitted with air tubes that floated above the submerged craft to provide the crew oxygen.

Historians believe Drebbel built two more submarines, the second of which reportedly carried 16 crew and was propelled by 12 oarsmen. According to historical accounts written after Drebbel died, the inventor exhibited this submarine on the Thames River for the benefit of King James, where thousands of spectators witnessed it dive to depths up to 15 feet, and it reportedly travelled underwater for at least two miles for a duration of three hours. While more recent historical accounts report that Drebbel even took the king for a test run, many historians remain sceptical and find the historical evidence lacking.

Despite the submarine’s apparent success and patronage from the king, the Royal Navy never commissioned a Drebbel submarine and did not provide support for further investigation into the potential capabilities of submarines as naval craft until it hired Robert Fulton in 1797.

No one knows what happened to these original submarines and Drebbel died in London in relative obscurity in 1633. While his submarines were soon forgotten, the inventor did leave a legacy of sorts, as some claim he was the inventor of a microscope with two convex lenses, and he did invent a scarlet dye that became incredibly popular in Europe and benefited his daughter and son-in-law who established a very successful dye works factory.

Meta Tag:

Submarines are inherently mysterious, but so is the submarine’s original inventor, Cornelis Drebbel, the unrecognized father of the submarine.

–Written July 10, 2015. I have no idea how this history was used, or whether it was even “published,” but I doubt I was hired by an undergrad or grad student, as the pay was too good.


Seven Years War Served as a Global Conflict With Far Reaching Implications

While Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia were considered the primary belligerents of the Seven Years War, it was an intercontinental conflict with shifting alliances that drew in many nations and people across the globe. The outcome of the war established new international borders, set up Great Britain as the dominant world power, and marginalized the power of France and Spain, while ensuring the continued rise of a Prussian-dominated Germany as well as a modernizing Russia. Known as the “French and Indian War” in North America, the conflict would also indirectly lead to the American colonists’ revolt against Great Britain in the mid-1770s, as well as to the French Revolution and rise of Napoleon.

The initial causes of the war, as well as its expansion, are complex, but primarily revolve around French and English control of colonial possessions and the struggle between the Austrian Empire and rising kingdom of Prussia for dominance over central Europe. Other nations were drawn into the war due to alliances and opportunistic forays designed to gain lands or other benefits from attacking one side or the other.

The Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle that ended the 1740-1748 War of Austrian Succession is considered the primary fuse for the Seven Years War. That peace treaty served as a de facto temporary cease fire that allowed belligerents to switch alliances and strategize for the next war that most people in Europe knew was coming. During that earlier war Austria had been humiliated by Prussia, which had seized the key province of Silesia. Dissatisfied with the help offered by its ally Great Britain in that earlier war, Austria sought and gained new alliances with France, which was interested in gaining Great Britain’s ancestral Hanoverian territories in Germany; and Russia, which was concerned about Prussia’s growing power. Great Britain, meanwhile, forged a new alliance with Prussia as a means of securing its threatened Hanoverian possessions, and to secure a large field army to serve as a bulwark against France.

Other opportunistic alliances forged by Great Britain during the war included Portugal, the confederated American Indian Iroquois Tribe, Holy Roman Empire state of Hesse-Kassel, and the German states of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel and Schaumburg-Lippe. Other nations which forged opportunistic alliances with France, Austria and Russia included Spain, Sweden, Saxony and the Indian Mughal Empire. The French were also allied with the Agonquin, Abenaki and Huron tribes in America.

A secondary, and perhaps no less important fuse, was French incursions and fort building in the American Ohio River Valley. In fact, while the Seven Years War officially began in 1756, war actually broke out two years earlier in North America, and French, British, Colonial and Indian forces were fighting each other over strategic lands and forts across North America for two years before issuance of a formal declaration of war. In fact, the hostilities in the Americas helped speed up negotiations over alliances among the European belligerents, making that two-year period of time known as the “Diplomatic Revolution.”

The war officially began on August 29, 1756 when Prussia made a pre-emptive strike into Saxony. Prussia’s Frederick II (The Great), who believed that Austria had been poised to invade Silesia, struck first in order to nullify Saxony as a threat, and to springboard into Bohemia before France and Russia could mobilize. The ensuing invasion into Bohemia was thwarted by strong resistance, and Frederick and Prussia spent the next five years manoeuvring around central and northeastern Europe battling Russians, French, Austrians and Swedes. The Prussians won numerous victories due to a lack of cohesiveness and disparate goals of the opposing forces, but the war took its toll and the Prussians were low on manpower and on the defensive by 1760, though still winning some impressive battles, including Liegnitz, where they were outnumbered three to one.

For its part on the continent, Great Britain sent troops to Hanover and fought a number of battles against the French to keep them occupied and protect the Prussian flank. However, Great Britain did the bulk of its fighting in the colonies and on the sea. Great Britain destroyed most of the French naval forces in the Battles of Lagos and Quiberon Bay, which in turn thwarted French plans for an invasion of the British Isles. The British navy was also instrumental in defeating French forces in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cuba, Senegal, the Philippines and India.

While the French enjoyed initial success in the North American campaigns from 1754 to 1757, the tide turned in 1758 with the French limited in their ability to resupply their North American forces due to an English blockade of French ports, and their alliance with Indian allies starting to falter due to a massive outbreak of smallpox, among other reasons. Starting with the capture of the French Fortress in Louisbourg in Nova Scotia and French retreat from Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania in the fall of 1758, British forces subsequently defeated French forces at Ticonderoga, Quebec City and Montreal, effectively ending most fighting in North America by 1760.

While outnumbered and essentially surrounded by enemies, Prussian forces had fought their combined enemies into a stalemate by 1762, and all of the belligerents were war weary and starting to seek peace. The death of the Russian empress that year reduced that country’s commitment to the war, and following some skirmishing later that year, the fighting came to end in early 1763 with the Treaty of Paris between Great Britain, France and Spain; the Treaty of Hubertusburg between Saxony, Austria and Prussia; and the Treaty of St. Petersburg between Prussia and Russia.

France was deemed to have lost the most from the war and ensuing peace by having to cede to Great Britain all North American lands east of the Mississippi except New Orleans, as well as Senegal, Minorca and most of its possessions in the West Indies and India. Britain gave Cuba back to Spain, but received Florida in return, and France gave Spain Louisiana in compensation for its part in the war. On the continent the borders around Prussia essentially remained the same with Prussia keeping Silesia and Austria keeping Saxony. While Prussia maintained its position as a rising power, Austria regained the prestige it had lost from its humiliating losses during the War of Austrian Succession, allowing it to remain a European power of sorts for another century. Russia gained little from the world, but its new empress was able to keep the country on track with modernization that led her reign to be known as the country’s “golden age.”

Meta Tag:

Seven Years War was a highly complex global conflict that made Great Britain the dominant world power and set the stage for the American and French Revolutions.

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