A not-so-famous technological innovation of the Revolutionary War was the world's first combat submarine.  Here it is:  The American Turtle!  (The screws are for drilling a hole in the target ship's hull, attaching a timed bomb, and disengaging.)

Its inventor, David Bushnell, was feverish the day of The Turtle's big debut, and so was his brother Ezra.  So a game volunteer, Ezra Lee, offered to take The Turtle out for a ride and see what he could blow up with it.  Unfortunately -- nothing (exploding an English ship would've been really useful right then, as England had a rather overwhelming navy sitting plump by New York City).  The Turtle had no visibility when submerged, and Lee seems to have tried to drill a hole in a rudder, whose material was too tough for the screw.

But it wasn't a dead loss, because when The Turtle surfaced on its melancholy return to base (it held enough air for only about thirty minutes of submersion), it really, really freaked the English out.  All the more so when they sent out some boats to check out what on earth was "bobbing with intent" on the water, and Lee released the bomb.  The English scurried back right quick, the bomb exploded, and England's ships cut their anchors and kept a wary distance for a wee while -- both tactically and strategically irrelevant, but fun!

The Turtle never got a chance for a second mission; it was scuttled during the Continental Army's flight, to keep it out of English hands.


cole
1/6/2012

Cool

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1/6/2012

(Note: Cole wrote to me to ask for help with a report, but there was some kind of problem with his email address, so I couldn't reply directly -- so, my reply goes here in the hopes that he will see it for whatever use it might be!)

***

Hi Cole! Thanks for writing -- and the Turtle would I think make an excellent extra credit report, because it is such an odd thing (well, that's what I'd think if I were a teacher, anyway, which I am not, heh).

The bad news is that I don't really know a whole lot more about it than I put in that little post. Given that you are of an age that grew up with search engines, I am probably going only to annoy you with my..."help"...but here it is anyway!

The sometimes-maligned Wikipedia is actually pretty good (sometimes quite good), particularly for subjects like this that are not likely to attract people who would be amused by messing up the entries. So, with that, we have these two:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtle_%281775%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bushnell

Also, scroll down to the bottom of each Wiki entry to look at the "References" section for each. These references (some of which are to articles, book excerpts, or videos you can click on and see in full) can give you more detailed information. In this particular case, I found that the Wiki references for these two articles contained much more interesting links than I had found on my own -- it figures. Now I am totally absorbed by "The Battle of the Kegs," which is kind of off-topic, as it happened post-Turtle, but -- must focus!

One of the references (that I *had* found on my own previously) is this from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a source we can regard as pretty reliable; it is of course only a general overview:

http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/bushnelld.html

You can generally expect a museum, like a (reputable) university, to take reasonable pains with accuracy in information, so museum sources are usually good:

http://www.ctrivermuseum.org/content/collections.aspx?sid=2_1

Then, we have specialist organizations, which are usually good even if small, because aficionados of a topic are pretty finicky and careful about their assertions:

http://www.submarinehistory.com/Bushnell.html

In the "proceed with increased caution" category are little articles or blog posts like mine, which come from random people who can sometimes be thorough...and sometimes just totally pull stuff out of the air or indulge in unfounded speculation. You never know what you're going to get, so it's best to double-check what you can. The virtue of these sources (er, not mine, which is only the broadest of overviews) is that sometimes they contain extra tidbits of information you can't easily find elsewhere. So, they're worth looking at to give you ideas.

http://www.bushnellhomestead.org/DavidBushnell.html
http://home.comcast.net/~bluebirdsong/chesley/turtle.htm
http://inventors.about.com/od/sstartinventions/a/Submarines_3.htm

With all of these articles, remember to look for any links or outside sources the article offers; you can piggyback on other people's research productively this way.

With historical research, the very, very best thing you can get is what is called a primary resource. This means something that was written at the time. Everything else is, after all, an interpretation. Of course, primary sources are interpretations too -- people can be inaccurate or fanciful when talking about things that they've even seen with their own eyes -- but they're not as MUCH of an interpretation as what later people think about what the first people on the scene said!

As a side note, one of the things I think is interesting about the whole Turtle incident is that it shows George Washington's interest in and dedication to technological innovation. I mean, let's face it, the Turtle idea was WEIRD at the time. (It was also regarded as somewhat ungentlemanly and improper, as you'll see when you go through some of those links -- fighting through stealth rather than facing the enemy directly -- and this charge of "ungentlemanly stealth fighting" was something that was frequently leveled at us through the course of the Revolutionary War for a variety of reasons.) Because Washington was fighting an underdog war with lousy resources from a country that had almost no manufacturing capacity, he didn't get that much of a chance to demonstrate his interest in technology in this conflict (or in his life), but it was there nonetheless. (For modest improvements, although this was not a technological one, Washington championed the use of mules in agriculture. Another example that *is* technological is his insistence upon inoculating his troops against smallpox, a controversial procedure at the time. Also, his dedication during his Presidency to Alexander Hamilton's vision of a country that supported and promoted manufacturing and industry is in line with this basically pro-technology, pro-innovation outlook.)

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