You Got to Be Kidding Me!

The Hunley was NOT a recycled steam boiler

Posted in History by Stacy McMahon on June 26, 2006

I just edited my first Wikipedia article. It’s the one about the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine that sank the U.S.S. Housatonic outside Charleston, S.C. The article had perpetuated the myth that the Hunley was made from an old steam boiler, which is not the case. It was built from the keel up as a submarine, and its 1863 design incorporated several key features found on all modern submarines:

  • One forward and one aft ballast tanks, trimmed independently.
  • Dive planes mounted on the hull just behind the forward ballast tank.
  • Shrouded single propeller and rudder.
  • Snorkel tubes to recycle the air inside without surfacing. This is especially significant since it was ignored or forgotten, then reinvented at the end of WWII and is now standard on all submarines.

People tend to see the south as backward and hidebound, which is partly the truth and partly the result of a smear campaign dating from Reconstruction. Think of the Hatfields and the McCoys, which was basically a sensationalised story made up to sell newspapers in the north. It’s interesting, then, to think about those admittedly rare examples of cutting-edge innovation from that region.


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