One of Wisconsin’s major contributions to the war effort during the Second World War was the construction of fleet submarines. Starting in 1941 with the USS Peto (SS-265) Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company constructed 28 fleet submarines for the war. See also Wisconsin Built Subchasers. Initially, Manitowoc shipbuilding was tapped by the Navy to construct destroyers however, it was deemed easier to construct submarines. This was done because at the time there was no direct route for large vessels in or out of the Great Lakes as the St. Lawrence Seaway would not be opened until 1959. The submarines would be constructed in Manitowoc, launched into Lake Michigan, conduct sea trials in Lake Michigan, and then transported by tug and floating drydock through the Chicago River to the Mississippi River down to New Orleans where they would be fitted out because the radar masts and periscopes would be removed so the submarines could clear all the bridges along the way. In fact, the Navy paid for lift machinery at the Western Avenue Railroad Bridge to facilitate this process. Although the USS Cobia was not constructed at Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, it is a great example of the type of submarines constructed in Manitowoc as none of the submarines constructed by Manitowoc Shipbuilding persisted into the modern era. However, the USS Robalo (SS-273), USS Golet (SS-361), USS Guavina (SS-362), USS Jallao (SS-368), USS Kete (SS-369), and the USS Lagarto (SS-371) persist as shipwrecks. At the time they were heralded as the first submarines built on the Great Lakes and this was immediately found to be inaccurate. There was the 1850’s Phillips Marine Cigar and Foolkiller (See Phillips Submarine’s Part I ) The 1892 Baker submarine boat and finally the 1897 Raddatz Submarine built in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Raddatz submarine remains an obscure piece of Maritime history and is not acknowledged in general submarine history. This blog post serves to rectify these facts as the Raddatz submarine deserves its place in history, especially for how comparatively advanced this vessel was compared to its contemporaries.
A Historic Launch
On 26 June 1897, a crowd gathered on the banks of the Fox River in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to witness the first public test of a bizarre craft that prior was only read about in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: a submarine. The inventor called to the crowd of spectators from the opened hatch of the vessel:
“We’re going to submerge and lie on the river bottom for 15 minutes.”
The vessel slid away and submerged into the murky Fox River. Thirty minutes would pass. Fearing tragedy, the crowd became anxious calling for the river dredge. Unknown to them, the submarine had traveled a half-mile downstream to the Chicago & Northwestern railroad bridge where it later surfaced. This was a craft conceived by then 26-year-old engineer and inventor, Richard Raddatz, a recent graduate of the Normal School (Now the University of Wisconsin: Oshkosh). The young inventor was inspired to design a submarine after reading about an offer of $1,000,000 from the French government for a successful submarine craft.
In 1892 Richard Raddatz had constructed a 36-40 long, 3-foot long diameter wooden prototype submarine. This craft had used large wooden fins (or ailerons) and a bicycle pump for submerging. This submarine had railroad tracks fastened to the bottom as ballast to keep the craft balanced in the water and had a very large plate glass window. Being that it was constructed out of wood, this vessel leaked. Like the later steel-hulled submarine, it is most likely this submarine was built by Raddatz’s associate August G. Schulz, the owner of Oshkosh Cistern and Tank Company. This submarine was lost after colliding with a piling, which shattered the plate glass window. *It is unknown how Raddatz survived but he was able to either surface the vessel or swim his way to safety. This vessel could still be buried in sediment on the bottom of the Fox River.
A Submarine In Lake Winnebago
This incident did not deter Raddatz and he designed a steel-hulled submarine later in 1892. This submarine was constructed through 1893 inside of a barn on the property of the Oshkosh Cistern and Tank Company near a boathouse on the Fox River. This submarine was constructed from armor pleated steel 5/16 inches in diameter and braced with angle irons. William & Otto Konrad financed the submarine’s construction and like the prototype was constructed by August Shulz. After the primary construction was completed, the submarine was moved to the boathouse. Raddatz had desired the utmost secrecy with his project and therefore had an 8-foot tall fence constructed along the barn and the boathouse so no one could see the move or photograph it. The initial submergence tests were conducted within the boathouse. Once the inventor was confident in his vessel’s abilities he would leave it submerged within the boathouse to further conceal it from prying eyes. In winter, he would allow the Fox River to freeze over the top of the submerged submarine. By 1893, 10 descents had already been made. Raddatz had declared early on that his vessel was intended for peaceful purposes but the vessels fearsome appearance convinced both the media and the masses that it was a warship. This popular misconception would later land Raddatz in trouble.
“I’ve seen a great deal about it in the papers lately, I don’t know where they secured all their information, but it was news to me.” -Richard Raddatz Oshkosh Daily Northwestern April 11, 1898
In its initial configuration, the Raddatz submarine was 50 feet long with a single 4-foot diameter “sail” or conning tower. In the spring of 1897, the submarine was refit and lengthened to 65 feet with two conning towers. Each was outfitted with glass “bullseyes for viewing outside the vessel. The fore tower was for the pilot and the aft tower was for the engineer. This modification made early in the initial reporting of the submarine accounts for the discrepancy in the various depictions of the submarine in the media of the day. The vessel tapered 16 feet at either end with the last 6 feet tapering into a braced steel beak. The Raddatz submarine had a single double-bladed propeller 28 inches in diameter and the rudder was placed just below. The craft weighed roughly 31 tons. In addition to the installation of new machinery, the Raddatz submarine was lengthened to improve handling underwater. Newspaper accounts of the interior give the indication of a vessel that was continually being refined and improved. Rather than building a new submarine that incorporated the improvements, Raddatz opted to rebuild and improve the submarine he already had.
The Raddatz submarine was initially powered with bicycle pedals connected to the propeller via a chain. Eventually, the submarine was repowered by a combination of electric and kerosene motors. The kerosene motor was 40hp and was used for surface travel. When traveling underwater the vessel would switch to electric power provided by it 30-cell storage battery. The kerosene motor could then charge the batteries when the submarine was surfaced. The later addition of a hot air motor could keep the batteries charged while submerged. The Raddatz submarine could attain 14 mph surfaced, 10 mph with decks awash and 6 mph when submerged. The average speed was 8 mph surfaced and 5 mph when submerged. The vessel was reportedly a very smooth ride as those who rode within would claim that the vessels movements while diving, surfacing or through the water were almost imperceptible. The vessel could descend or ascend at an average of 3 feet a second. People rode in the craft comfortably despite the Raddatz submarine not being equipped with a heater, there were plans to eventually install one. It is unknown if it was ever outfitted with a heater for diving underwater.
Raddatz kept most of the details concerning his submarine’s propulsion, diving apparatus, and life-support (air) purposely vague or secret. The craft maintained its depth apparently by an automatic machine for hours at a time. It was reported that the ballast system for submerging was powered by compressed air and water that moved from one part of the ship to another. It is stated that the air within was maintained through a chemical action that absorbed the carbonic acid that would build in the air in a “caustic potash, caustic soda, and lime.” a later description of the air machine stated that there were three parts: the first being a series of tanks with tubes out into the chambers, the second being a machine that subjected the air to a “mechano-chemical process” and finally an electrical machine that electrically purified the air. Those who rode in the submarine reported the air was kept remarkably fresh for hours on end. The submarine had interior electric lighting and the vessel was able to dive and ascent on an entirely level keel without having to slant into the water.
For the initial public test of the submarine on 26 June 1897, Raddatz had invited a reporter from the New York Times in order to promote his invention. He had wanted to promote his submarine to a prospective buyer. Raddatz did not patent the submarine or any of the technology within firstly because he believed doing so would only reveal the vessels secrets and secondly, he wanted to sell his submarine as a whole. The Raddatz submarine was tested extensively on both the Fox River and Lake Winnebago reportedly achieving a max depth of 30 feet (although it is unknown where in Lake Winnebago he would’ve achieved that depth) During the sea trials his submarine had rammed the pilings of the northwestern railway bridge and became wedged in. Raddatz and his engineer were able to free the vessel by wiggling it out. They would put the engine back and forth while moving the rudder left and right until it was freed. By the end of the season in 1897, Raddatz required more money for his submarine and the initial financiers were reluctant to advance him more money. In October of 1897, Richard Raddatz sold his submarine to interests in Milwaukee comprised of Benjamin T. Leuzarder and James P. Millar with the understanding that Raddatz would keep improving and testing submarine until it was ready for commercial production. This sale and those involved were initially kept secret.
At this time Richard became employed as an engineer for the Edward P. Allis Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company constructed heavy mining, milling, and steam engines. It is unknown if there was any support or interest from the company in his submarine craft. Following this sale, the submarine had to be moved from Oshkosh to Milwaukee for further tests in Lake Michigan and was this was done so via rail. Raddatz ran into trouble because of the public perception that the submarine was a war vessel, he was barred from using it in Lake Michigan by the Navy. This was due to the provisions of the Rush-Bagot treaty from the War of 1812 which limited naval armaments on the Great Lakes. Richard Raddatz then had to convince the Navy that his vessel was for peaceful purposes such as wrecking, underwater survey, and underwater photography. He actually managed to get a representative from the Navy to come aboard his submarine and give the okay to transport it for use in Lake Michigan. This, however, did not result in any interest in a purchase from the Navy but, due to the Navy review of the vessel at the time, the Media believed that the Navy was considering its use as a warship. The Submarine was apparently mentioned in the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute. Raddatz later proposed a scheme where marine insurance companies could use his submarine to go survey shipwrecks in order to ascertain the true cause of the vessels sinking and then the insurance company could modify the claims accordingly. Raddatz also stated he could use his invention to search for the missing steamers Chicora and St. Albans. The submarine remained in Oshkosh through the winter and was not moved until April 1898.
Moving the submarine proved to be a challenge due to the size and weight of the vessel. The first attempt was to move the submarine over timbers from its mooring to the two flat cars that were going to carry it just a short distance away. The submarine refused to budge. It finally moved when the submarine was turned prow first and securely fastened with chains attached to a huge seventeen strand block and tackle which was then attached to a capstan which was turned by horse and a powerful switch engine. Several chains were broke through all parts of the process but, the submarine made it to the flat cars. In order to raise the submarine up to the level of the flat cars, several powerful jackscrews were placed beneath the craft and then it was gradually raised to be finally loaded aboard the flat cars. The Raddatz submarine left Oshkosh April 14, 1898, and arrived in Milwaukee on April 16, 1898. The vessel was moored at the Old Milwaukee Drydock Company on the Kinnickinnic River.
The Raddatz Submarine in Lake Michigan
When finally in Milwaukee the submarine was refit again with improved machinery including additional battery cells, new gasoline engine, and the hull was painted a dull red. On June 14, 1898, while docked at its mooring the Raddatz submarine had a close call with a freighter.
The Steamer City of Rome heavily laden with coal was trying to power its way through the small canal. As the vessel powered up, a wave issued from its propellers and nearly swamped the small submarine, which was moored with both hatches open and the inventor working inside. The inventor along with others scrambled to grasp hold of the cables to keep the submarine at its dock. The City of Rome continued its way through the canal causing a whirlpool which sucked the submarine free of its mooring. The submarine swung around with such force that the lines holding the submarine to the dock nearly snapped, which would have sent the armored prow directly into the wooden hull of the City of Rome. The first official test of the submarine in its new port after waiting for the Navy to give the go-ahead, was on June 28, 1898, in the Kinnickinnic River.
At that time newspapers reported that the submarine was going to be used in the Spanish-American War. Again this was a presumption that the vessel was only for combat. The Raddatz submarine never left the Great Lakes. In the following two years 1898-1900, the submarine was subjected to further tests in Lake Michigan. By 1900 the submarine was tested to a depth of 40 feet and at some point was reported to have dove to a depth of 70 feet. The inventor boasted that his submarine could withstand a depth of 300-600 feet. It seemingly never dove to that depth. In the summer of 1899, the submarine was dry docked for further improvements including a spotlight and an underwater camera. Earlier that year Raddatz announced his intention to build a larger version of his submarine with an 8-foot diameter and a hull length of 85 feet with a chamber for a diver to enter and exit much like Lodner Phillips Marine Cigar.
Construction of this second submarine was never started due to difficulties in securing the requisite steel required to build the vessel. In order to build this second submarine, Raddatz and his investors organized into the “Raddatz Boat Company” in June 1899 with $100,000 of backing. It is stated that later two of the investors sold their shares. In November 1899 the Raddatz Submarine was refit with new electrical fittings of a dynamo, motor, switchboard, and storage battery by Messrs. Rohn & Meyer. A month later the Raddatz submarine put to sea in Lake Michigan where it encountered trouble while surveying the bottom at the entrance of Milwaukee Harbor. After submerging the vessel, Raddatz believing it to be level ordered the craft forward-thrusting its prow into a bank of clay with enough force to catapult its three occupants forward. The boat was stuck fast and after a half an hour of churning the bottom with the submarine’s propeller, they were freed. That very same day the Raddatz submarine encountered further trouble after being lowered to the bottom from a ship with the same three occupants where again it was stuck in another clay bank. Once again the submarine had to use its upgraded engine to force itself out of the clay and back to the surface.
By 1900 the future of the Raddatz Submarine was uncertain. Raddatz had attempted to garner further interest in his submarine with further newspaper articles including the New York Times. Richard Raddatz had promised a sailing tour with his submarine of all Great Lakes but, this never occurred. Raddatz had attempted to sell his submarine to the Navy but, at that time the Navy was already engaged with John P. Holland’s submarines. He had also attempted to gain interest from the Russian Navy in his submarine by mailing them pictures and even by the Russo-Japanese War there was no interest. There were also plans for the submarine to be used for survey work of American ports in the Gulf of Mexico but this never occurred either. Raddatz at some point had made plans for an upgraded version of his submarine as an attack submarine complete with internal torpedo tubes. Presumably, this was made to get interested in his submarine from the military. It is unknown if this was part of his plans for a large version of his submarine. By 1903, the Raddatz submarine was left to rust in a shed on Jones Island in Milwaukee.
The submarine was finally scrapped in 1905 with the inventor promising that he had not lost interest in his invention. It is unknown by whom the vessel was scrapped by or if there is anything left of the Raddatz submarine. It appears that Richard Raddatz and his investors did indeed lose interest in his submarine. Perhaps he felt insecure in his vessel’s abilities in comparison to other contemporaries like John P. Holland or George Baker. Another possibility is that he could never keep up with the finances that his invention demanded. Possibly, Raddatz was conflicted as to the final use of his submarine, for warfare or for peace. There could have been an internal struggle within the Raddatz Boat Company which is why eventually two of his investors sold their shares. One possibility comes from a 1917 interview with Raddatz’s colleague, C.C. Konrad. Konrad suggests that Raddatz did not continue his work with his submarine because of his marriage to his wife, Anna in 1898. Anna was concerned that her husband would lose his life in a submarine descent. Though in a later interview Konrad had also suggested that the submarines built by the Germans for the First World War were based on Richard’s designs.
Conclusion: The Fate of the Raddatz Submarine
It is unknown why the Raddatz submarine never gained much interest even though it was reported as far away as Australia. It is unknown precisely why Richard Raddatz gave up on his craft although there’s speculation that reason is left lost to the passage of time. The Raddatz submarine could surface and dive on a level keel, had gas engines for surface and electric engines for when it was submerged, could charge batteries while submerged, internal lighting, and an apparatus for maintaining the atmosphere. All important technologies that were way ahead of their time. Maintaining an atmosphere inside of a submarine wasn’t perfected until late World War II. Being that the USS Holland (SS-1) was launched a month before in May 1897 it’s easy to surmise that both inventors John Holland and Richard Raddatz devised combustion-electric powerplants concurrently. Richard Raddatz had even developed a way to navigate underwater using a compass within his submarine circumventing the error caused to the compass by the submarine’s metallic hull, though the source on this is obscured at to exactly how this was achieved. The challenge of developing a compass navigation for submarine use wouldn’t be solved until years later in 1907 by Herman Anschutz-Kaempfe. Raddatz himself would go on to hold several patents mostly for Vacuum apparatuses. It is unknown what became of Richard Raddatz himself, the last history ever recorded of him was living in Milwaukee in 1920, he was 47 years old.
“We believe we have in this boat one of the most wonderful inventions of the nineteenth century.” -Benjamin T. Leuzarder, San Francisco Call, November 28, 1897
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