“Kindly tell Professor Tuck I’d like to go down on the Peacemaker,” the elder statesman ordered a young boy on the main deck of the tugboat Luther C. Ward. The boy quickly wove his way through the crowded decks and called upon the master of the nautical ceremonies. The tug, packed with stockholders, newspapermen, and possible investors, was bobbing in the waters of the North River, near Eighty-Sixth Street.1 “Professor Tuck,” the young boy stated as he pulled on the sleeve of the inventor’s heavy woolen overcoat. Professor Tuck turned and smiled as he listened to the boy’s message. He thanked the young messenger and patted him softly on the top of his head. The support of the former commanding general of the United States Army would certainly assist in solidifying the fortunes of the Submarine Monitor Company. Professor Tuck looked at the green craft of his creation as it bobbed in the cold waters alongside the tugboat. He straightened out his coat, turned from his tinkering on the craft and went aloft to the main deck to meet with General William Tecumseh Sherman.
“Professor,” General Sherman offered as he extended his hand, “I’d like to see this before it is in motion.” Professor Tuck and the General shook hands. “I can see all I desire while it is still,” Sherman continued. Professor Tuck offered a warm smile. “Certainly,” he replied. Sherman, at age sixty-six, had faced many perilous and near death experiences during his lifetime but still had a few questions of caution before going below aboard the strange craft. “Are you sure that you’ve enough concentrated air down there?” he inquired as he peered down at the strange greenish cigar shape invention. “Enough to last eight hours,” the Professor replied confidently. “Are your lungs good General?” he inquired. “First rate,” General Sherman stoically retorted. “Well then,” the Professor continued, “come along.” General Sherman, despite the chill in the air, took off his overcoat and handed it to a gentleman at his side. General Sherman then followed Professor Tuck down to the gunwale where he was about to be provided a close inspection and descent into the murky waters of the North River.
General Sherman met with the submarine’s pilot, John Holland and its engineer, John Kline and after a few moments, the three men slid through the “manhole” into the submarine.2 Free of all lines, the Peacemaker slowly descended below the surface of the water. Fifteen minutes passed and finally, the submarine easily broached the surface. The manhole was opened and the damp air of the submarine was refreshed with the chilled November wind. General Sherman rose from craft and offered a slight wave to his companions aboard the tug. General Sherman gingerly worked his way back to his companion and donned his overcoat. “Positively no danger at all,” he offered as he fixed his hat. “Very nice indeed. Very nice.” Professor Tuck smiled and before the famous General, members of the press, stockholders in the company and prospective investors, he explained just how the Peacemaker operated utilizing its unique design and how it could possibly ensure peace throughout the world with its ability to lay torpedoes under enemy vessels without detection. At the summation of his lecture, he announced the next test of the Peacemaker which would include an underwater advance on the tugboat. Professor Tuck retired from the crowd on the main deck and went back down to the submarine for its second test of the day. Unfortunately, the submarine’s pilot and engineer were unable to put the Peacemaker through its planned operations and made only a brief descent. The fortuitous commendations of General Sherman were not enough to salvage the failed test runs of the Peacemaker on November 20, 1886. Though sullen, Professor Tuck remained positive and announced that after a few minor adjustments, the tests of the Peacemaker would recommence a few days later. For Professor Tuck, it was just another stumbling block of his efforts.
Professor Josiah H. L. Tuck had been a “forty-niner” in San Francisco and with his knowledge in mining engineering he had returned to New York a wealthy man. Though little is known of his academic background, his interest in submarine craft and their abilities during the Civil War had plunged him into a world of the constant pursuit of his goal of mastering the underwater realm in fantastic machines since 1862. After many years of contemplation, he finally filed his patent in June of 1883 and it was approved on April 29, 1884. In that same year, he would launch his first attempt.3 The vessel, thirty feet in length, had been constructed at the Delamater Iron Works at the foot of West Thirteenth Street in New York City. The design included storage batteries for electricity to provide four hours of operational ability, air from an air chamber on board and for ballast, the use of strategically placed pig iron. While two of the three crewmen would be sealed inside the craft, the pilot would instead be placed in a well – amidships – with surface supplied diving equipment and air hoses running to the surface on a float. The design seemed plausible enough though the reliance of a surface float was a major drawback to the stealth abilities yearned by submarine inventors. The Peacemaker was about to make its debut after twenty-two years of design and construction efforts.
On August 30, 1884, before an estimated crowd of nearly five hundred spectators, Professor Tuck and his engineer, Fredericks, got into the aft cabin of the craft. The pilot, John Rich, donned his surface supplied diving rig and helmet. Despite Rich’s feigning of a host of maladies earlier in the day, the tests of the crafts were to proceed. With the aft cabin sealed shut and the pilot in his well amidships, the craft was ready to be lowered beneath the surface. A bevy of tenders carefully managed the lines that were tethered to the craft and at the orders of Professor Tuck, they began to pay out the lines. The craft descended about ten feet and began working its way clear of the wharf. Along the wharf, the tenders watched for the tell-tale bubbles from the craft. Suddenly the exhaust bubbles began to wane and then they stopped completely. Something was wrong. The tenders began pulling hard on the lines and within a few moments, the craft broached the surface. The pilot, it appeared was missing from the submarine. Frantically, the tenders jumped onto the craft and began fishing into the well for some clue to his whereabouts. As the water exited the well, they found the pilot lying in a heap at the bottom. Pulled to the wharf, the tenders removed his diving helmet. Though he appeared dead, it was quickly determined that he was unconscious. A roundsman at the scene quickly haled an ambulance and the stricken diver was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where it was ascertained that he was probably suffering from an internal hemorrhage. Tenders at the scene and Professor Tuck surmised that Rich had fainted when they had submerged and had collapsed on his own air tubes. With his weight on the air lines, his air supply had been compromised. While Rich remained under care at the hospital, Professor Tuck remained convinced that his design would work.4 Meanwhile, the submarine torpedo boat rested idly in the waters at the wharf.
“I think I shall enclose this machine with a high board fence and charge an admission fee to those who want to see it,” offered the watchman at the wharf at West Thirteenth Street where the submarine torpedo boat was moored. A large group had amassed and all inquired as to the test where Rich had been injured. The watchman offered his best answers to the inquisitive hoards and informed them that Rich had been released from the hospital and was resting at his home in Brooklyn. And while the pilot complained that his arms were sore, the watchman offered his own humble opinion that his arms hurt because of how the tenders dragged him out of the well during his faint. The steady stream of gawkers continued past the craft while Professor Tuck saw the accident as an opportunity to further his invention and how they would operate it in future experiments.5
Two weeks later, on September 19th, 1884, the submarine torpedo boat was once again ready for testing. The submarine boat, described as appearing as if a “shark with a hole in its back,” would have some interesting observers present for the tests along with a large gaggle of citizens. The French Counsel and the Chinese Ambassador were on hand along with Captain Gillis, Lieutenants Norton and Hotchkins and Surgeon Hesler from the U.S.S. Minnesota as Professor Tuck, pilot John Rich and Holland once again attempted to brave the depths of the river. Though he had been advised to put on his heavy diving boots, Pilot Rich was nearly knocked clear out of the well of the submarine as he was battered by the heavy waves. Despite the conditions, the craft descended below the surface and Professor Tuck engaged the electric motor. After bumping into an oyster scow, the submarine returned to the wharf and ascended from the shallows. As the aft hatch swung open, Holland emerged and alighted, “What’s the matter?” The jocular response to the submarine’s unexpected encounter with the oyster scow was replied by the crowd with great laughter. Though some slight complications had been revealed, the test was considered a great success by Professor Tuck. It also appeared that the French and Chinese governments were impressed and interested in the design. The testing and work on the Peacemaker would continue.
1 Also aboard and of notable interest was Major General J.B. Schofield (Union General who served with Sherman and took over as the Commanding General of the United States Army from 1888 to 1895. He was awarded, in 1892, the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Wilson’s Creek during the American Civil War), General Whipple (Union General and former Aide-de-Camp of General Sherman), Albert E. Sterner (an illustrator), Commodore Charles O’Neill (U.S. Navy, Bureau of Yards and Docks), Major Sanger, Frederick Lovejoy (Vice-President of the Adams Express Company), Daniel Starr, John L. Rogers, George W. Nelson, Ernest Sterner (medical physician), M.M. Cass, Jr. (an attorney), J. Edward Simmons (President of the Fourth National Bank) and Lieutenant E. L. Zalinski of the United States Army – also a submarine designer and builder. See footnote #2 for more information regarding his affiliation with John P. Holland.
2 The engineer – named John Holland is an interesting component to these trials as John P. Holland was engaged in submarine efforts and would eventually be named the father of the modern submarine with his successful attainment of the U.S. Navy and foreign government contracts. In a thorough review of contemporary news accounts of Professor Tuck’s various exhibitions of his submarine, there are several references to John Holland as being the engineer, pilot or captain. While some historians attest that the John Holland referenced in the experiments were not John P. Holland, Professor Tuck maintained in 1898 that it was one in the same. Holland from 1884 through 1886 is listed as John G. Holland, John Holland, or John J. Holland in all of the contemporary news reports. During the same time frame, John P. Holland was definitely engaged in the construction and design of submarine vessels including the Zalinski Boat (Holland IV) which was built in coordination with U.S. Army Lieutenant Edmund Zalinski with construction commencing in 1884 and launching in 1885. The Zalinski boat made several trial runs in New York waters but was ultimately broken up with the jointly formed company of the Nautilus Submarine Boat Company going defunct in 1886. With this timeline of Holland’s activities, it is clearly possible that the efforts of both entities – Holland’s work with LT. Zalinski and with Professor Tuck could have occurred as Professor Tuck asserted in 1898.
3 US Patent 297647A included several views of the new submarine craft. The images show the well for the surface supplied diver which would not be in the final design built and subsequently tested in 1886 which had an enclosed pilot house or “early” version of a conning tower. Professor Tuck filed an additional patent, US297648A, related to his design for a marine torpedo which was also approved on April 29, 1884.
4 A closer examination of Rich’s diving gear determined that the diving suit had not been completely fastened. A pint of water had been found in the suit when it was removed. Rich, an excited proponent of submarine craft, was not a professional diver.
5 Professor Tuck explained that the initial signal devised between the pilot (in this case John Rich) and the internal crew (Tuck and Fredericks) was a heavy thump that indicated that all was good. When the pilot fainted and fell heavily into the base of the well, Professor Tuck mistook the thump as a signal that all was proceeding as planned. Tuck had shifted to electric power and realized something was wrong when the craft was being pulled back toward the wharf and to the surface. As noted in the contemporary account of the accident, “Prof. Tuck will arrange a system of signals by which the man who steers the boat hereafter can communicate with the engineer in the hold below with more certainty of being understood than was the case on Saturday.”