1841 (24 February)

John Holland (the second child of John Holland and Mary Scanlon) is born in Liscannor, County Clare (Ireland).  Holland’s father works as a boatman for the British Coast Guard.


The Holland family moves to Limerick after the death of John’s father. Holland attends the Monastery School in the city, run by the Christian Brothers.  The Christian Brothers have a positive and lasting influence on Holland.


Holland arrives at the novitiate of the Irish Christian Brothers on North Richmond Street, Dublin. He becomes a teaching brother, and is henceforth known as Brother Philip. He is transferred to the North Monastery school, Cork where he encounters Brother James Dominic Burke, an educationalist and scientist who encouraged Holland’s scientific ambition.


1861 (22 December)

Holland suffers from a recurring stress related illness that renders him unable to teach.

1862 (9 March)

A Cork Examiner report on the U.S.S Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia sea-battle in the US Civil War (both iron clad ships) leads to Holland first considering the idea of a submarine.


Brother Philip is admonished for poor classroom discipline, for neglecting his teaching duties, and for investing too much time in scientific experiments.


Holland theorises his first basic submarine design.

1873 (26 May)

John Philip Holland withdraws from the Irish Christian Brothers. In November, Holland joins his mother and brothers in Boston. While laid up with concussion and a broken leg late the following year, he re-examines his previous design and finds it stands up to scrutiny.



Holland begins work as a lay teacher at St. John’s Parochial School in Paterson, New Jersey.


Holland uses a contact to submit his submarine idea to the United States Navy. It is rejected as impractical, as from the Navy’s perspective, the operator of the vessel would be unable to see anything – but turns up in a lecture on “Submarine Boats and Their Application to Torpedo Operations” by Lieutenant F. M. Barber (USN).


Holland’s brother Michael, a member of the revolutionary Irish Republican Brotherhood (The Fenians), introduces him to one of its leading figures, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Another leading Fenian, John Breslin, is asked to evaluate the potential for using Holland’s torpedo boat, or submarine, against the British Fleet.

1877 (12 June)

The Fenians agree to finance the construction of Holland’s first submarine, the Holland I.

1878 (6 June)

The Holland I, just 14ft long, and powered by a 4hp Brayton engine, dives to 12 feet in front of the IRB leadership.  They are sufficiently impressed to agree to fund a larger model.



Holland’s second submarine, the Holland II/Fenian Ram/ is launched. This 31 ft long, 3 person vessel is powered by a 20 h.p. Brayton engine, and possesses a pneumatic gun capable of firing explosive projectiles.



After two years of additional tests the Holland III is launched. Following tension within the IRB, the Holland II/Fenian Ram and Holland III are towed away by Breslin, the Holland III sinking in the process. Holland’s association with the Fenians ends in recrimination and disappointment. The Fenian Ram remains in storage until 1916 when it appears at a Bazaar organised to raise funds for victims of the 1916 Rising in Ireland.


Holland designs a submarine known as the Zalinski Boat – to facilitate the use of a pneumatic gun invented by Edmund Zalinski. It is not a success – it is constructed with a wooden hull to save money, and is damaged during its launch.


1888 to 1893

Holland enters and wins three separate U.S. government competitions to design a submarine built to their specifications, finally obtaining a US Navy contract to build a vessel in 1893.


Elihu Frost and Holland form The John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company to facilitate the construction of the winning design. Construction is delayed until 1895 because of political manoeuvering by one of Holland’s rivals for the contract.


Construction of the winning design, the Holland V/The Plunger begins. The inflexible approach of the US Navy to the submarine specification makes it unsafe and unusable. Holland takes the risky step of simultaneously building a submarine to his own design, and at his own cost.



The Holland VI is launched, powered by a gasoline engine on the surface, and an electric motor when submerged. The Holland VI has a bow torpedo tube and carries three torpedoes in total.



The Electric Boat Company (EB) is formed by Isaac Rice. The John P. Holland Torpedo Boat company becomes a subsidiary of EB.


Holland signs a five year contract with the Electric Boat Company, exchanging control over his patents for an enhanced salary and shares. Following two years of tests the US Navy purchases the Holland VI on 11 April 1900. The USS Holland is formally commissioned into the US Navy on 12 October 1900.

1901 (June)

The Fulton submarine is launched. It is the prototype for the first US fleet of submarines, and the first British, Russian, Dutch and Japansese submarine fleets. Holland believed that the new designs were seriously flawed, and clashed repeatedly with the Electric Boat Company over safety concerns.


Theodore Roosevelt (the then US Navy Secretary) dives on board the A-1 (a Holland submarine), and authorizes extra pay for submariner duty.

1904 (March 28)

John Philip Holland resigns from the Electric Boat Company after numerous disagreements with board members. He is 63 years old.  He subsequently designs two submarines for the Japanese Navy (boats no. 6 and 7).

1905 (October)

The Electric Boat Company file a suit against Holland preventing him from using his patents to build or construct additional submarines.


Holland designs prototype flying machines but his progress is interrupted by ongoing ill-health.

1914 (12 August)

Holland contracts pneumonia and, surrounded by his family in Paterson, New Jersey, he dies at the age of 73.