The Early Submariners: Robert Fulton

The development of the submarine weapon was a product of many different minds, all with varying intentions. Some were patriots, seeking the ultimate counter to the naval super-weapons of first-rate powers. Others were schemers, betting their lives and fortunes on unproven vessels of their own design, seeking riches and renown beyond measure. There were, of course, those who explored the physical universe through the mind, men who could conceptualize the vastly complicated interaction of man-made materials and the physical nature of the abyss. These men oftentimes never sought to bring their drawings and writings from the confine of paper or parchment, but inspired generations of dreamers to follow. The most important group, however, was that of the journeyman inventor, men of the mind who traveled from country to country seeking patronage for their radical dreams.


Though Robert Fulton is primarily heralded for his development of one of the first commercially successful steamships, submarine travel also loomed large in his imagination. He was one of the many journeymen inventors of the industrial era, intent of finding an entrepreneurial opportunity that would fit his innovational pursuits. Though an American, his submarine design found benefactors in France during the turn of the 18th century, enabling him to build the submarine Nautilus. His submarine design embodied many of the features that now dominate the modern conception of the submarine craft. First and foremost, he rejected the egg- or box-shaped craft, opting instead for the now-classic cigar shape. His vessel would be manned by a crew of three, driven by propellers, and could actually submerge while towing a crude bomb. In many ways, the invention was far ahead of its time, and never found the same success as the soon ubiquitous steamship. Eventually, the endeavor was abandoned, though it inspired and interested many of his notable contemporaries, including then-president Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps more importantly, his design inspired generations of inventors to follow.



Let's hear what you have to say...