On this day in 1885 Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol, Catalan intellectual, artist and engineer, inventor of the first combustion engine-driven submarine, which was propelled by an early form of air-independent propulsion was born in 1819.

The Ictineo II made her maiden voyage under human power on 20 May 1865, submerging to 30 metres (98 ft). A few months later, Monturiol attempted to attract government funding by installing a cannon that could be aimed and fired from inside the submarine. After reading about the American Civil War and the relatively crude attempts at submarine construction such as the CSS Hunley, the financially-desperate Monturiol wrote to the US Secretary of the Navy; however, the Civil War had ended by the time the Secretary responded.

Dissatisfied with the limitations placed on him by human propulsion, Monturiol realized that the only option was steam power, but contemporary steam engines required a fire which was not an option for a submarine. Monturiol returned to his chemical experiments, and after trying many different combinations, arrived at a solution of 53% zinc, 16% manganese dioxide, and 31% potassium chlorate which could generate sufficient heat to power a steam engine while at the same time producing oxygen. He purchased a six-cylinder steam engine and divided it in half; one half was to be powered by a coal-burning boiler for surface propulsion, while the other half was driven by a separate boiler fueled by his chemical mixture.

Monturiol envisaged a new vessel, custom built to house his new engine, which would be entirely built of metal with the engine housed in its own separate compartment. However, due to the state of his finances, construction of a new vessel was out of the question, and instead he managed to assemble enough funds to fit the engine into the Ictineo II.
On 22 October 1867 the Ictineo II made its first surface journey under steam power, averaging 3.5 knots (4.0 mph) with a top speed of 4.5 knots (5.2 mph). Two months later, on 14 December, Monturiol submerged the vessel and ran his chemical engine, but without attempting to travel anywhere.

Originally posted by Dane Carlson on September 6, 2013 in History.

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