February 7: Electric Boat Begins a Century of Submarine Building


For over 100 years, Electric Boat has been the primary producer of submarines for the United States and allied countries around the world.  From its headquarters and shipyard in Groton, Connecticut, and auxiliary shipyards located in Quonset, RI and Newport News, VA, Electric Boat has designed and built dozens of technologically-advanced submarines for the U.S. Navy, beginning with the Navy’s first-ever formally commissioned submarine, the USS Holland, in 1900.

John P. Holland, “Father of the modern submarine” and co-founder of the Electric Boat Company.

The Electric Boat Company was formally incorporated on February 7, 1899, as a partnership between engineer John P. Holland and investor Isaac Rice.  Holland, an Irish immigrant known to history as the father of the modern submarine, had created the Holland Torpedo Boat Company in 1893, but the company found itself financially struggling after a few years in business.  With the financial backing of Isaac Rice, the Electric Boat Company was able to complete Holland’s latest design, a 54-foot-long vessel considered the first practical military submarine.  In 1900, the U.S. Navy purchased the innovative sub and commissioned it the USS Holland, making it the inaugural vessel of the United States submarine force.

In 1911, the Electric Boat Company purchased the New London Ship and Engine Company, located on the banks of the Thames River in Groton, and soon moved its headquarters and much of its shipbuilding operations there.  While the company is best known for its submarines, Electric Boat and its subsidiaries also built hundreds of surface ships (like submarine chasers and PT boats) for the U.S. Navy over the course of the two World Wars.  Electric Boat built 85 submarines for the U.S. Navy during World War I and built 74 more during World War II, churning out a new boat on an average of every two weeks during the height of production.

This mid-20th century postcard depicts the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, in front of the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT.

After World War II, the shareholders of Electric Boat reorganized the company as a subsidiary of the newly-created General Dynamics corporation, which would allow Electric Boat to focus almost exclusively on designing and building submarines while other branches of the company worked on surface ships, aircraft, and other defense-related manufacturing.  Among Electric Boat’s many accomplishments during the Cold War era were the construction of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus (completed in 1954), and the world’s first ballistic nuclear submarine, the USS George Washington (completed in 1959).  Electric Boat continues to be a dominant force in global submarine production — having produced nearly all of the vessels for the U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles, Virginia, Seawolf, and Ohio submarine classes — and remains one of the largest economic drivers of southeastern Connecticut.  One of the state’s most innovative companies was launched — today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Timeline: Electric Boat History,” General Dynamics Electric Boat

Barbara Nagy, “Electric Boat: Full Speed Into the Nuclear Age,Connecticut Explored