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Early Submarines: Topics in Chronicling America

To combat warships, early submarines were created in the late 19th century. This guide provides access to material related to "Early Submarines" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Inventor Holland's Proposed New Semi-Submerged Torpedo Boat." April 24, 1898. The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), Image 18. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

A crew of less than ten men can sink a battleship and escape undetected and unharmed. The rise of submarines imperils warships and merchant marines alike. Navies around the world scramble to adapt to the new threat. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


February 17, 1864 A Confederate submarine sinks the USS Housatonic.
November 8, 1899 The Navy Department tests and purchases the Holland from inventor John Phillip Holland.
1901 The Navy Department establishes a Torpedo School at Fort Totten, which is soon renamed The School of Submarine Defense, to respond to the emerging threat of submarine warfare.
1901-1902 Following the successful completion of the Holland, the Navy signed contracts for several new submarines.
1914-1918 World War I provides the first major stage to showcase the offensive capabilities of submarines and provides the impetus for major advances in submarine defense technologies. Some even speculate that submarine warships will eventually replace conventional naval vessels.
1915 Listening stations use “Mechanical Ears” to amplify sound waves and identify submarine sound signatures. Once a submarine was detected two listening stations could triangulate its location.
May 7, 1915 German U-Boats sink the Lusitania, killing over 1,300 including many Americans.
October 9, 1916 German U-Boats sink six merchant ships off the coast of Nantucket, MA.