Born as the Holland VI / USS Holland (SS-1), this early compact attack submarine was essentially the formal birth of the United States Navy's submarine program heading into the 20th Century. The vessel proved the first step towards a modernization of the "new-look" American Navy. The Holland was born out of a competition presented by the branch for a new, capable underwater vessel with an adequate submerged range and the capability to fire a torpedo. The design of the Holland was put down as early as 1888 headed by Irish engineer John Phillip Holland and, after much redesign, convincing and use of his own fortune to push the vessel along, the Holland was finally accepted into service as the first submarine of the United States Navy. Mr Holland held the advantage of maintaining powerful Irish-American friends at the government level which helped to ensure his vessel would see the light of day. Otherwise, the American submarine program would have languished until perhaps pushed by war. She was formally launched in May of 1897 before officially entering service with the USN some three years later. The submarine carried the name of J.P. Holland himself.
The Holland VI saw her keel laid down in November 1896 and was launched on May 17th, 1897. She was added to the US Navy inventory on October 12th, 1900. Shortly after her commissioning (the first commissioned US Navy submarine in its history and the third "officially" operated in service), the United States Navy adopted the more formal designation of "SS-1" and the "Holland IV" name was simplified to "Holland" - to become the USS Holland (SS-1).
The Holland was of a prototypical shape, remarkably mimicking the design lines still encountered today to an extent. The hull was of a tear-drop shape with a bulbous bow and tapered stern. The propeller sat at the stern with the rudder assembly just aft. There was no tower per se, only a low-profile access hatch along an elevated section of the upper hull. Beyond that, there were also no dive planes fitted along the craft sides. The Holland's machinery included a 45 horsepower Otto-brand gasoline-fueled engine which was used for surface travel. For submerged operation, the Holland relied on a 75 horsepower E.D. electric motor with 66-cell Exide battery. The propulsion arrangement was for driving the single screw at the stern. As built, she could manage a dive depth of 75 feet and ranged out to 40 nautical miles when steaming at 3 knots. Maximum speed when submerged was 5 knots versus 8 knots when surfaced.
The Holland displaced on the surface at 63 tons and 74 tons when submerged. Dimensions included a running length of 53 feet with a beam of 10 feet and draught of 11.5 feet. While armed, her fitting was nominal and consisted of a single 457mm (18") torpedo tube and 1 x Zalinski pneumatic cannon ("dynamite gun") for close-range surface contacts and self-defense. The cannon was later removed.
Despite the seemingly impressive showing, the Holland showcased internal conditions that were heavily cramped for the crew of six with plenty of exposed inner workings apparent. Overall performance was never more than adequate for the age and its infant technology presented as much a danger to her crew due to asphyxiation or explosion that any one enemy warship might. There were few (if any) safety measures in place concerning undersea travel at the time.
Once in service, the Holland was primarily utilized as a training platform for future American submariners and proved hugely popular with the American press riding national fervor for their new development. Additionally, her activities allowed for the submarine to be closely studied and her data collected to be used in future US submarine classes. Her service life was limited on the whole for she was never pressed into combat and decommissioned as soon as July 17th, 1905. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on November 21st, 1910 to which the craft was then sold on June 18th, 1913 and, for a time, was placed on display in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1932, her hull was sold for scrapping bringing an end to her physical history - her influence, however, endured.
At any rate, the USS Holland served its purpose for her time, providing the growing USN with its inevitable stepping stone into the future of naval undersea warfare. The craft was a real world classroom of sorts and provided initial early successes into a new realm of warfare. Though not involved in any type of operational combat throughout her service life, the Holland nonetheless proved useful in her training endeavors. She was also influential in the design of other early submarines of the era - namely those of the British Royal Navy (as the HMS Holland 1) and those appearing in Japan.