Brutus de Villeroi (1794-1874) was a French engineer of the 19th century, born as Brutus Villeroi (he added the aristocratic "de" in his later years) in the city of Tours and soon moved to Nantes, who developed some of the first operational submarines, and the first submarine of the United States Navy, the Alligator in 1862.
Villeroi's first submarine (1833)
In 1833, de Villeroi completed a small submarine, possibly named "Nautilus" in reference to the 1800 submarine created by Robert Fulton.
The submarine was 10' 6" long by 27" high by 25" wide and displaced about six tons when submerged. She was equipped with eight dead-lights on top to provide interior light, and a top hatch with a retractable conning tower for surface navigation. For propulsion, she had three sets of duck-foot paddles and a large rudder. She was also equipped with a hatches with leather seals in order to make some manipulations outside of hull, a small ballast system with a lever and piston, and a 50 lb anchor. The ship had a complement of three men.
This submarine was demonstrated at Fromentine, Noirmoutier, near Nantes, France, in 1833, and later to representatives of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1837.
De Villeroi tried several times to sell his submarine designs to the French Navy (1832, 1855 and 1863), but he was apparently turned down every time.
In 1842, Brutus de Villeroi was reputedly a professor for drawing and mathematics at the Saint-Donatien Junior Seminary in Nantes, where Jules Verne was also a student. He may have inspired Verne's conceptual design for the Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, although no evidence for Villeroi's employment at Saint-Donatien has yet been found, and no direct link between the two men has ever been established.
United States career
During the late 1850s, Brutus de Villeroi went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States, where he developed several submarines. He is recorded in a 1860 American census, where his occupation is described as "natural genius".
Salvage submarine (1861)
His first American submarine was built for salvage purposes, and it gained fame when it was seized on May 16, 1861, by the suspicious Philadelphia police as it sailed up the Delaware River. Commander Henry K. Hoff, USN, wrote a report to Captain S.F. Dubont, Commanding Officer of Naval Station Philadelphia, describing the performance of the submarine and its interest to the Navy (Full text ):
- "In justice to Mr. De Villeroi we should state that the boat in question was constructed for salvage purposes and not for war uses, (for the latter, he proposes if his services are accepted by the Government to construct another on a larger scale whose greater capacity would afford additional facilities for the maneuvers of the men while it would also be provided with greatly increased power of propulsion) so that in the experiment we have considered the machine employed simple as a model to demonstrate the principles to be established by the inventor." (Letter by Henry K. Hoff, Commander, 1861)
Brutus de Villeroi's next ship, the USS Alligator, would be largely inspired from this design.
The Alligator (1862)
Brutus de Villeroi proposed a submarine design to the United States Navy, to counter the threat of Confederate States Navy ironclad warships. The Navy signed a contract with de Villeroi in autumn 1861, for the submarine to be built in 40 days, for a sum of US $14,000. The ship became the US Navy's first submarine, the Alligator. It was never officially commissioned and therefore does not have the "USS" prefix.
De Villeroi supervised the first phased of the construction in Philadelphia, but was progressively evicted from the project as he opposed some modifications to his design.
It was the first submarine to be ordered and built for the US Navy, the first to have a diver's lockout chamber, the first to have on-board air compressors for air renewal and diver support, the first to have an air-purifying system, the first to have electrically detonated limpet mines. It was designed primarily to launch divers, who could then plant bombs under surface ships or perform operations underwater.
In 1863, Brutus de Villeroi, after a dispute with his American associates, proposed his submarine design to the government of Napoleon III of France, but it was rejected as impractical and poorly researched. The French Navy was also already working on another design, Plongeur, with a compressed air engine, which was launched in 1863.
De Villeroi remained in the United States and died of chronic bronchitis in 1874. He was buried alongside his wife, Eulalie de Villeroi, in Rosedale Memorial Park, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
"Navy Yard Phila
July 7th 1861
In obedience to your order of may 3rd 1861 the Diving Machine of Mr DeVilleroi being reported ready for inspection, we proceeded to Delanco, New Jersey to examine it and have the honor to make the following report.
The Submarine Propeller submitted to our investigation consists of an iron cylinder, cone shaped at the two extremities about thirty three feed in length and four feet at its greatest diameter. It is propelled by means of a screw in the stern with two pinions, one on either side, resembling somewhat a whale in external form and appearance. Light is communicated to the interior by means of glass bulls eyes on the back, thirty six in number. An ellipsoidal section eight inches in height, opening at will affords entrance and exit for a crew of from six to twelve men, according to the speed required; A corresponding section at the bottom of the boat admits the egress of the divers, who, breathing by means of tubes attached to the boat are enabled to perform submarine operations, such as raising sunken cargoes, and attaching torpedoes to the bottoms of hostile vessels. An artificial atmosphere perfectly respirable by the men is generated bu the inventor by a chemical process so that the submerged boat is executes its maneuvers without any connection with the surface. Its entire apparatus is contained in the interior and invisible from the outside.
In justice to Mr. De Villeroi we should state that the boat in question was constructed for salvage purposes and not for war uses, (for the latter, he proposes if his services are accepted by the Government to construct another on a larger scale whose greater capacity would afford additional facilities for the maneuvers of the men while it would also be provided with greatly increased power of propulsion) so that in the experiment we have considered the machine employed simple as a model to demonstrate the principles to be established by the inventor.
From the experiments we have witnessed, corroborated by those made previously, we consider that Mr. DeVilleroi has demonstrated the following principles:
1st The ability to remain submerged for a length of time without communication with the surface or external atmosphere and without the least fatigue or exhaustion to the men.
2nd That of sinking and raising his boat at pleasure making repeated immersions and immersions.
3rd Ability of the men to leave and return to the boat while under water.
4th Ability of a man leaving the boat to live for a length of time, breathing by means of a tube connected with the boat.
The services of this distinguished Engineer would be very valuable to the Government and the possession of his invention would be an acquisition of the greatest importance. It is evident that in the event of war, with a foreign power the mere knowledge that we possessed such a mysterious invisible engine of destruction, would have the effect of production great caution on the part of invading fleet in our waters, causing apprehension and alarm in the minds of those on board as to their safety while lying at anchor in a river or a roadstead.
The examination of the Telescope called for in your order, has not been made [it] having been brought to our note by the inventor.
Henry K. Hoff
Comdg U.S. Naval Station
es:Brutus de Villeroi