Who Invented the First Submarines? [When, Where & How]

Have you ever wondered who invented the first submarines? One of the greatest war machines ever invented, submarines can be confusing to understand at first glance. So judging from your search results, you may be wondering—who built the first submarine?

The very first submarine ever built was in 1620 by Cornelius Van Drebbel. It was a hand-powered submarine that was demonstrated to King James I of England. This event changed the course of ship-making.

We’ll look at when were submarines invented and get familiar with the major players in the invention of submarines and what their contributions were to science. Let’s check together the history of these fascinating vessels.

Here’s a list of great inventions in the 1800s, 1920s, and 1950s.

Who invented the first submarines?

when was submarine invented

The first primitive attempts to build a submarine were noted in the era of the Alexander the Great and Peloponnesian wars.

It seems that this invention was born from necessity: according to historians, Alexander’s engineers built several prototypes in order to navigate rivers and lakes. 

However, they did not have any success because their machines were too complicated and heavy.

An Englishman William Bourne designed the first prototype of a submarine in 1578. 

Therefore, he was credited as the man who invented the first submarine.

He was an Englishman who developed his ideas for submarines based on his knowledge of boats, ships, and watercraft. 

His idea was to create a craft that could move underwater by using compressed air to drive it forward.

After William Bourne, Cornelius Van Drebbel, a Dutchman in the service of James I of England, designed and built the first successful submarine in 1620. 

Van Drebbel was inspired by Archimedes’ principle that an object submerged in water experiences an upward force equal to its weight multiplied by the density of water.

What was the first submarine made out of?

In 1721, the first submarine was created by a man named David Bushnell.

It consisted of two wooden shells covered with tar and reinforced with steel bands. 

The top shell was designed to hold the crew, while the bottom shell held ballast water.

A pump connected to a hand crank allowed for air exchange between the two shells, allowing the ship to stay submerged for up to 30 hours at a time.

How did the first submarine work?

The boat was ballasted with lead weights, which helped it float on the surface and sink when necessary.

The oarsmen had to stay underwater for at least an hour to avoid drowning. 

The boat had two hatches—one on top and one on the bottom—so they could use them while rowing or when they needed air.

How deep could the first submarines go?

The first submarines were built in the 16th century by Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutch inventor and engineer. 

Drebbel’s sub could go up to 15 feet deep. He demonstrated his invention to King James I in 1620.

Drebbel demonstrated it in the Thames river and got his first patent for it in 1620. 

But he did not have enough funds to develop more sophisticated versions of his submarine and therefore did not succeed in selling it.

When was the submarine telescope invented?

The submarine telescope was invented in 1863 and is an example of the ingenuity that was used during the Civil War. 

The submarine telescope was invented by Sarah Mather, who was a young schoolteacher from Massachusetts.

She had been teaching at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. when she heard about the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack. 

While in Washington, she had seen how difficult it was for sailors to see through their telescopes while they were on board a ship at sea.

Sarah Mather decided to invent something that would make it easier for sailors to see objects through their telescopes while they were out on deck. 

She came up with a design for a telescope that could be fitted onto a small box so that it could be taken out onto deck without being damaged by the weather or salt water.

When was the first submarine invented?

If you want to find out when were submarines invented, you have to go back to the 16th century.

The first submarine was invented in 1578 by William Bourne. 

It was a very basic design that used a wooden barrel and could be submerged for a short period.

The first submarine constructed by Cornelius Van Drebbel in 1620 was made out of wood, leather, and lead. 

It was powered by eight oarsmen and could stay submerged for about 30 minutes at a depth of 15 feet (5 meters). 

This submarine was powered by oars and paddles and could dive beneath the water’s surface.

In 1801 Robert Fulton built the Nautilus, which was the first practical steam-powered submarine. 

The Nautilus traveled underwater at an average speed of 4 knots (7 km/h) and could submerge to a depth of 20 feet (6 m).

Why was the submarine invented?

The submarine was originally conceived as a way to help navies avoid detection and protect their ships from enemy fire. 

By avoiding detection, submarines could sneak up on enemy ships and sink them before they knew what hit them.

This idea made sense because in 1914 when submarines were first used in warfare, most countries still had very primitive methods of detecting underwater vessels. 

They relied mainly on visual sightings or listening for sounds made by the submarine while it was underwater.

These methods were not very effective at locating submarines because they could not detect them until they were very close to an enemy ship.

The submarine can also be used to carry out covert operations by landing special forces on enemy shores without being detected or traced back to their source.

Who invented the nuclear submarine?

Hyman George Rickover invented the nuclear submarine. 

He was an admiral during World War II, and he led a team of scientists who developed the first nuclear-powered submarine, which they called the Nautilus.

This revolutionary vessel was able to stay underwater for long periods without needing to surface for air or refueling.

Rickover’s work on the Nautilus led to the development of nuclear-powered submarines, and he was a key figure in the creation of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear program. 

He also served as an advisor to President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he helped develop the first atomic bomb that would be used against Japan during World War II.

Rickover is also known for his work on other military projects, including developing guided missiles and radar systems. 

In 1954, he became director of the Naval Reactors Branch at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

He retired from the navy in 1966 and was appointed AEC’s deputy administrator for naval reactors in 1967. 

His work on nuclear submarines made him one of the most influential people in the history of modern warfare.

Who invented the electric submarine?

history of submarines

Isaac Peral y Caballero, a Spanish engineer, created a prototype of an electric submarine in 1881. He based his design on that of an old diving bell.

The submarine was powered by an electric motor and had a crew of three. 

It was operated from the surface by cables, which were connected to the submarine’s propeller shafts.

The submarine was also equipped with an air compressor and a ballast tank. 

The latter allowed the submarine to submerge or surface by filling or emptying it with water. 

Peral y Caballero later built a second model, which he named “Nautilus”, after Jules Verne’s fictional Nautilus from his 1869 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

The second submarine was a more advanced design, with improved ballast tanks and propeller shafts.

It also had a diesel engine and could dive to depths of around 100 meters. 

Peral y Caballero took his new invention out for its first test run in 1885, but the submarine sank after only 15 minutes due to an air leak that was not detected before departure.

Who invented the submarine in WW1?

Wilhelm Bauer was a German engineer who had been building submarines since 1871. 

He was a man who invented the first submarine used in war.

In 1905 he presented his design for a military submarine to the German Navy, and they were so impressed that they funded his research and development of what would become the U-1.

The U-1 was a small submarine that could only carry two people. It had an electric motor and could travel at a top speed of 6 knots (7 mph). 

It was 21 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 4 feet high, and it weighed approximately 100 pounds when fully loaded with fuel.

The U-1 was the first submarine to be used in war. It was launched in 1906 and sunk a few years later during World War I by a British cruiser.

What are submarines used for?

Submarines are used for a variety of purposes, but they’re especially useful in wartime.

Submarines can be used to attack other ships or conduct surveillance, but their most important job is to provide a way for governments to defend their countries from invasion.

  • During wars. Submarines can sneak up on enemy ships and launch an attack from below. They can also be used to destroy harbors and other structures that are important to the enemy’s success.

For underwater expeditions. Submarines can explore underwater areas without being noticed, which makes them perfect for exploring places like the ocean floor or even other planets (like Jupiter’s moon Europa).

History of submarines timeline

The history of submarines is a rich one and the story goes back much further than you might think. 

So, to bring you closer to it, I’m presenting to you the history of submarines timeline.

  • 1578 – William Bourne designed the first prototype of a submarine. It was made of leather, wood, and brass and only worked when it was submerged in water.
  • 1620 – Cornelius van Drebbel built what is considered to be the first working submarine in history. It was powered by oars and could carry 16 men. It was used in a demonstration for King James I of England in the River Thames.
  • 1775 – David Bushnell builds a submarine called The Turtle that looks like a turtle-shaped boat on top of a wooden cylinder.
  • 1800 – A Frenchman Robert Fulton designed the Nautilus, a human-powered submarine.
  • 1850 – The British Royal Navy commissions its first modern submarine, the M1, which is designed by Robert Whitehead and built by William Hales.
  • 1866 – French engineer Gustave Zede designed the first submersible torpedo boat known as the Porpoise. This type of vessel was later used by the United States Navy during World War I.
  • 1885 – The first military submarine was designed by Simon Lake, an American engineer. He called it the Argonaut.
  • 1904 – The French submarine Agriette is launched. It is the first submarine to have an internal combustion engine, which it uses to recharge its batteries.
  • 1914 – The British Royal Navy launches the first fleet of submarines. These subs are equipped with diesel engines and can operate on the surface of the sea as well as underwater.
  • 1959 – During the Cold War, submarines played an important role in surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Submarines are used to spy on NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. The US Navy deploys nuclear-powered submarines called the “Nautilus” class.
  • 1968 – Howard Hughes designed a submarine called the Glomar Explorer, which was used by NASA to raise a sunken Soviet submarine.
  • 2011 – The United States Navy developed a new submarine called the Virginia class. This submarine was designed to be stealthy and quiet, unlike earlier models which were noisy and easy to detect.


A rich history of submarines can be explained through the list of frequently asked questions I made for you. Let’s have a look at it together.

How long can a submarine stay underwater?

Modern submarines can stay underwater for up to 90 days, but other factors like the weather and the depth of the water can affect their ability to stay submerged.

Do submarines have WiFi?

Modern submarines are equipped with wireless technology that allows them to communicate with other submarines and surface ships.

How fast can submarines go?

The underwater speed record is held by the Russian titanium submarine K-162. This submarine reached 44.7 knots (83 km/h) in 1969. But, due to its secrecy, this record was never confirmed by the Russian Navy.

Why do submarines have red lights?

The reason why submarines have red lamps is that the human eye is less sensitive to this wavelength of light, making it easier for our eyes to stay dark-adapted underwater.


To sum it up, as the article showed you, submarines have been around for a very long time. 

We can freely say that William Bourne and Cornelius Drebbel are two people who invented the first submarines.

But if you want to find out more information about the rich history of submarines, feel free to reach out to me.