People had been paddling about in boats for thousands of years before submarines were invented. Underwater travel proved a lot trickier to invent, even though fish make it look so easy.
Deep Down. The first working submarine was built in 1620 by Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch inventor employed by James I of England. We don’t know exactly how it worked, it looks suspiciously like an upturned rowing boat and was powered by men pulling oars. A similar design had been drawn up by English naval officer William Bourne in 1578, but it was never made.
The Turtle, built in 1775 by the American David Bushnell, was designed to sink a British warship. It failed, but it’s the first military submarine and the first vessel we know about that could move and operate underwater.
In 1864, the first submarine to sink a ship was the CSS H. L. Hunley, named after its designer. Unfortunately the submarine sank too.
In 1870 Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea featured a submarine called Nautilus that inspired inventors to come up with more sophisticated machine-powered designs for submarines.
In 1906 the first German U-boat was launched. During the First World War, U-boats proved very effective at sinking enemy ships. War at sea changed for ever and thousands of subs were used during the Second World War. In the 1950s new technology, including nuclear power, allowed submarines to remain underwater for months.
Submariners on today’s nuclear subs spend weeks at a time in cramped conditions and without seeing the Sun. They often have ‘coffin dreams’ – they wake up convinced they’re inside a coffin. True claustrophobia sufferers are rooted out during submarine training.
It would be impossible for you to build your own working submarine, but you can demonstrate one of the principles behind submarine engineering – buoyancy – in this simple experiment. You can also check out the great films listed below featuring submarines.
SUBMARINE FEATURE FILMS
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) U
Das Boot (1981)12
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) PG
The Abyss (1989) 15
The Land That Time Forgot (1975) PG
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) 15
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) PG
The Hunt for Red October (1990) PG
Yellow Submarine PG (1968) U