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Bushnell, David (30 August 1740–1826), inventor, was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, the son of Nehemiah Bushnell and Sarah Ingham, farmers. By the time Bushnell entered Yale, he had developed concepts for both a submarine and an underwater explosive. At college, he experimented with gunpowder and proved that it could explode underwater. During the summer of 1775, the year he graduated, the thirteen colonies were in the throes of revolt against Great Britain, and Bushnell felt that an offensive weapon would be a useful tool against the Royal Navy in the ensuing conflict. With that in mind, he constructed his submarine in Saybrook during the spring and summer of 1775. Although he was secretive about his work, several colonial notables knew of it, including ...

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Eckford, Henry (12 March 1775–12 November 1832), naval architect and shipbuilder, was born at Kilwinning, near Irvine (Clyde district), Scotland, the son of John Eckford and Janet Black, whose occupations are not known. At the age of sixteen Eckford was sent to Quebec, Canada, to study shipbuilding under the aegis of an uncle, John Black. He next relocated to New York City in 1796 and for three years labored in a boat shop. In 1799 Eckford married Marion Bedell of Hempstead, Long Island; they had nine children. That same year he established his own boat yard and from 1803 to 1806 enjoyed a profitable relationship with Captain Edward Beebe. Eckford soon became a designer known for ships possessing both strength and speed. Whenever a vessel he constructed completed its maiden voyage, he would personally interview the captain about its performance and make desired modifications at his own expense....

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Ericsson, John (31 July 1803–08 March 1889), inventor and engineer, was born in Langbanshyttan, province of Wermland, Sweden, the son of Olof Ericsson, a mine proprietor and inspector, and Brita Sophia Yngstrom. His earliest education was instruction by his parents and private tutors. John often spent his days drawing and building models of the machinery in his father’s mine. His father was well educated, but John’s strong character traits were attributed to the influence of his mother. Sweden’s war with Russia ruined John’s father financially, but he was able to secure a position as an inspector on a canal project and to obtain appointments for his two sons as cadets in the Corps of Mechanical Engineers. Thus at age thirteen John began his first formal education, and his natural aptitudes for mechanical drawing and solving engineering problems were encouraged and developed....

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Herreshoff, L. Francis (11 November 1890–04 December 1972), yacht designer, was born Lewis Francis Herreshoff in Bristol, Rhode Island, the son of the renowned steam engineer and yacht designer Nathanael Greene Herreshoff and Clara DeWolf Herreshoff. L. Francis's early education in his chosen profession was provided at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, the yacht-building firm that his father and uncle, John Brown Herreshoff, started in 1878. During L. Francis's youth, it was arguably the leading such enterprise in the world. Much of his boyhood was spent in the Herreshoff shops and on board the boats they produced. He was privileged to observe the design, building, and racing of dozens of sailing yachts, including America's Cup defenders....

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Herreshoff, Nathanael Greene (18 March 1848–02 June 1938), steam engineer and yacht designer, was born in Bristol, Rhode Island, the seventh of nine children of Charles Frederick Herreshoff (pronounced Herr-es-off, with the stress on the first syllable), a gentleman farmer whose paternal grandfather had emigrated to Rhode Island from Prussia in 1787, and Julia Ann Lewis. Herreshoff escaped the disease that early blinded five of his siblings. But when his consumingly ambitious older brother John Brown Herreshoff became blind at age fourteen, Herreshoff was compelled to assist him in his sailing and boat-building endeavors. By twelve he was a proficient draftsman and boat modeler as well as a skilled yacht racing helmsman and navigator. By the time he graduated from high school (1865), he was playing an important role in the design of small craft being built at his brother’s newly formed Herreshoff & Stone boat works....

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John P. Holland. Photomechanical print, 1897. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100656).

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Holland, John Philip (24 February 1841–12 August 1914), inventor, was born in Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland, the son of John Holland, a coast guard officer, and Mary Scanlon. The Hollands lived in a small coast guard cottage, and though they had greater economic security than many residents of the village, the poverty, famine, and disease that surrounded them and that led to the death of John’s younger brother Robert and two of his uncles had a profound impact on him, initiating a strong anti-British sentiment that influenced much of his life. In 1853 Holland’s father died and the family moved to Limerick, where Holland entered the monastery school. He was very committed to his studies and rapidly excelled in the physical sciences. The hardship caused by his father’s death, along with Holland’s strong interest in education, prompted his entrance into the teaching order of the Irish Christian Brothers in 1858. He was sent to the North Monastery School in Cork for further training and apprentice teaching. Over the next fifteen years Holland moved to various teaching posts throughout Ireland and taught a variety of subjects ranging from the physical sciences to music. However, his poor health forced him to take periodic breaks from his teaching duties and, along with his interest in designing submarines, influenced his decision to move to the United States in 1873 to join his mother and two brothers, who had moved to Boston several years earlier....

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Isherwood, Benjamin Franklin (06 October 1822–19 June 1915), marine engineer, was born in New York City, the son of Benjamin Isherwood, a physician, and Eliza Hicks. His father died soon after the boy was born, and his mother married a civil engineer, John Green, in 1824. In 1831 Isherwood enrolled in Albany Academy, an exacting preparatory school that emphasized “mechanical pursuits” (Sloan, p. 6). At age fourteen, in his final school year, Isherwood was expelled for unspecified “serious misconduct.”...

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Lake, Simon (04 September 1866–23 June 1945), inventor and submarine pioneer, was born in Pleasantville, New Jersey, the son of John Christopher Lake and Miriam Adams. Inventiveness ran in the Lake family; Simon’s father was the inventor and manufacturer of a window shade roller in Toms River, New Jersey, and later the proprietor of an iron foundry in Ocean City....

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Shreve, Henry Miller (21 October 1785–06 March 1851), steamboat captain, army engineer, and steamship designer, was born in Burlington County, New Jersey, the son of Israel Shreve and Mary Cokely, farmers. During the American Revolution British forces had destroyed the Shreve home, so Shreve’s father took his family to the frontier in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, when Henry was about three years old....