February 7: Electric Boat: 100+Years, Hundreds of Submarines


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, the company has designed and built dozens of technologically-advanced undersea vessels, beginning with the U. S. 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 as the father of the modern submarine, had created the Holland Torpedo Boat Company in 1893. That company, despite its innovative concepts for underwater vessel design, was financially struggling. With the backing of investor Rice, however, the Electric Boat Company was able to complete Holland’s design for a 54-foot-long vessel, today considered the first practical military submarine. In 1900, the U.S. Navy purchased this sub and commissioned it the USS Holland, the inaugural vessel of the United States submarine force.

More orders followed, and in 1911, the Electric Boat Company purchased the New London Ship and Engine Company, located on the banks of the Thames River in Groton, soon moving its headquarters and much of its shipbuilding operations there. During World War I, the company turned out 85 submarines for the U.S. Navy, adding 74 more during World War II. At the height of wartime production, it was producing a new sub on an average of every two weeks. Along with its accelerated submarine production, the company and its subsidiaries also built the U. S. Navy hundreds of combat surface ships (submarine chasers and PT boats).

This mid-20th century dpostcard 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. This allowed EB to focus 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 Cold War era accomplishments were the construction of both 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 U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles, Virginia, Seawolf, and Ohio class submarines, and it 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