Free Science Studies: John P. Holland & the Submarine

John P. Holland was an Irish engineer best known for his invention of the submarine.

“Other Famous Inventors of To-Day: John P. Holland and the Submarine”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
  • Review Robert Fulton and his Nautilus.
  • Learn more about David Bushnell and his Turtle at (also see resources below).
  • Explain or narrate how the Turtle worked (beginning bottom of pg. 265).
  • Make a three-page flip book (or four, counting cover) showing Bushnell’s contributions to the submarine (conning tower, propeller, beginnings of the torpedo).
  • Read more about the Turtle‘s battle with the Eagle (skip down to “Putting the Turtle to the Test”).
  • Learn more about the Hunley (misspelled Hundley in the book) at
  • List the notable features of Holland No. 8 (pg. 267).
  • Learn more about Admiral George Dewey at the Library of Congress. What was he referring to when he indicated that he could not have held Manila if the Spaniards had had two of Holland’s submarines?
  • Read more about the submarine Deutschland at
  • Learn more about how a submarine works at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
  • Read more about the American F-4 submarine at the U.S. Navy.
  • Learn more about how a periscope works at
  • Watch the video below to learn more about the submarines of today.
  • Create a timeline showing the main developments in submarine technology (you’ll find helps below).
  • More about the Holland and the submarine from the Book of Knowledge:

Perhaps the most successful of the new submarines was invented by John P. Holland, who began work in 1875. Eventually, by combining a gasoline engine, similar to those used in early automobiles, with electric storage batteries, he produced a practical submarine. He named the craft for himself. She was about 54 feet long and 75 tons displacement. The United States Navy purchased the Holland in 1900 as the first regular naval submarine.

By the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, all major navies of the world had a few submarines. By that time, most of the standard features that would mark the submarines of World Wars I and II had been developed. The submarine was a long, narrow, cigar-shaped tube of steel, filled with elaborate mechanisms. There were four main features.

First, ballast tanks between the outer and inner shells of the hull could be suddenly filled with water to submerge her, and emptied to bring her to the surface again.

Second, diesel engines propelled her on the surface; these were much more satisfactory than the Holland-type gasoline engines with their fumes, noise and danger of explosion. But the diesel engines had to have fresh air to operate, so they were of no use when the boat was submerged.

This led to the third main feature — the storage batteries that enabled the submarine to run while beneath the surface. Propulsion by battery, however, had two drawbacks. It could push the submarine at barely half her surface speed; and the batteries could operate for only a limited time; then the vessel had to rise to the surface to recharge.

The fourth major feature was the supply of torpedoes that the submarine carried as her principal weapon. 

“Submarines” from The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

John Philip Holland
Biography at

John Philip Holland
More extensive biography at the Clare County Library.

Holland Submarine Number 1
Photos at the Holland Submarine Exhibit.

Holland Submarine Number 1 Exterior Details
Photos and information on the distinguishing features of the sub including the conning tower and propeller as mentioned in the text.

Submarine History
Extensive timeline at to help with suggestion above.


Up Periscope
Exploratorium activity that helps you build one.

My Submarine Ocean Explorer
Pilot your own submarine and explore various places in the ocean with this NOAA interactive.

Design a Submarine
And figure out how to make it hover, float, and sink in this activity from the Museum of Science and Industry.

Fast Attacks & Boomers: Submarines in the Cold War
Interactive exhibit from the Smithsonian.

Interactive Timeline Maker {Free}
Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing the major developments in submarine technology as suggested above.


David Bushnell and His Turtle by June Swanson
Great biography of the inventor of the first working underwater craft.

“Submarines in War and Peace”
Chapter from Stories of Inventors by Russell Doubleday covering the history of the submarine and details of Holland’s contributions.

The Boys’ Book of Submarines
Illustrated public domain title. Perfect introduction!

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
An original sub book from a favorite author! This is the original and unabridged translation — our preferred. Also available in PDF.

The Story of the Submarine by Farnham Bishop
Illustrated public domain book that covers Bushnell to Fulton to Holland.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Making a Periscope
Lesson plan from the NASA that helps you build one and find out how it works.

Robert Fulton: A Unit Study
Our own unit that includes background and resources on Fulton and his submarine.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

World Map
At for locating Ireland.

United States Map
At for locating New Jersey.

New Jersey State Map
Map for locating Paterson.

Diagram at the Smithsonian of an Ohio-class submarine for notebook.

John P. Holland & the Submarine Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the entire series:
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions

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