The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Monday, April 11, 1892

Full Text
Another Attempt was Made Saturday to Try Her
The Water Was Too Low, However, and It Wouldn't Work
An Interview With The Inventor of the Craft George C. Baker

The now well-known submarine torpedo boat was given a short trial in the River Rouge, along the side of the exposition grounds, Saturday afternoon. A depth of water of fifteen and a half feet had been figured on by the inventor, Mr. Baker, but the wate had lowered more than a foot by the heavy northeast winds which have prevailed for more than thirty hours past, and the wooden monster scraped on the bottom when submerged. Mr. Baker left the city Saturday night to be absent several days and the next trial will not be made until the last of next week, probably Saturday.

The inventor of this peculiar craft, George C. Baker, of Chicago, has been in the city since January last. He was formerly in the barbed wire business, but retired a couple of years ago with a goodly fortune. He is a tall, thin, spare man of 50 or thereabouts and wears the Grand Army button. He is very modest, too modest by half, some would think, and carries the air of a man who has seen a good deal of the world and posesses a very fair knowlege of the ins and outs. A reporter for the FREE PRESS, wishing to throw some light on the thousand and one rumors concerning the boat which have found their way into the nooks and crannies of various newspapers throughout the country, sought out Mr. Baker in his room at the Cadillac Hotel Saturday evening.

"Yes," he said, "I have seen things in print about the boat which are very ridiculous. Only the other day I picked up a Milwaukee paper and saw a three-quarter column description of the boat set off by two illustrations which fairly outshone those in Æsop's fables. They represented the boat submerged, wholly topped off by a huge smokestack as long as herself. Several feet of the stack stuck out of the water and from its end smoke was issuing. Imagine such a thing if you can. Even if such a plan were possible just see what a sure warning it would give an enemy of the approach of the boat. Scores of these things have appeared in print, and they will certainly do me more injury than good."

"Is their any truth in the statement that this boat is intended for the government?"

"Not the slightest, unless they want to buy the boat in the event of its being successful. It is purely a private enterprise, and should it fail, nobody but myself shall be at a loss. The contract for the boat was awarded a year ago last December, and in the latter month the boat was launched. I thought a good part of my work was done then, but was mistaken. It was as might be expected from something wholly new and untried, in a rather crude state. The hull was all right, but the machinery was not. Previous to that time I did not giveit so much of my time and attention, but in January I came here, and have since been almost continually at work upon it. Several experiments in the water have been made, and from what I have seen, I am encouraged to believe it will in the end prove successful. It is the result of several years' study on my part. I have it partially patented, but I intend to cover the whole thing before long. Yes, the hull is of wood, but it leaks only at the rate of two gallons in twenty-four hours. When the boat is on the surface about sixteen inches of the top is out of the water, and the propeller wheel is driven by an engine with steam. When submerged, power is furnished by a storage battery. This battery is the largest of the kind ever made, I think, and has the power of fifty horses. It has proved quite successful, and will probably answer every purpose. The speed? We have made eight miles per hour practically submerged."

"How can it be used?"

"In planting torpedoes beneath a war vesse, or in locating wrecks. In the latter capacity it will greatly assist the diver's operations. A powerful electric light is used, which throws a bright light to a distnce of sixteen feet when the boat is under water. This light is manipulated from an iron projection from the top of the boat known as a conning tower. The tower is of much the size and shape of a stiff hat and is provided with peep-holes on all sides, the glass being heavy plate an inch thick. Yes, the room in the boat is pretty well utilized now, but with all the machinery there is room yet for half a dozen persons. No, there are no bunks, but we have the room for them. The entire boat weighs about seventy-five tons.

"How do I light it under water? By the electric light furnished by the storage battery. It is a good strong light, too. No, the sensation when under water is not at all strange. It is purely a matter of imagination, you know. But a person can conjure up dire things just as well above the water as below it. A public trial? That depends on the desire of the public to see it. If they do, and the thing is successful in every respect, which I have good reason to look for, I am willing to give it a public trial."

Media Type:
Item Type:
Baker ran a successful trial of the boat April 29 of the same year, and by late 1893 he was in hot competition with the famous John Holland to win a contract to provide the U.S. Navy with its first operational submarine. Unfortunately, Baker passed away of appendicitis in March, 1894 and never saw his work come to fruition. For more on Baker and his boat, see Gary W. McCue's excellent web page on John Holland:

This was not the only submarine to see the lakes from below in the 19th century. The first of several designed mainly to do salvage was work was Lodner Phillips' "Marine Cigar" of 1852.
Date of Original:
Monday, April 11, 1892
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Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Monday, April 11, 1892