You are here

Submarine Building, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y. , 1915

The "Intelligent Whale" or "Halstead's Folly"

New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_5086
Document Description
The "Intelligent Whale" or "Halstead’s Folly" – an early experiment in submarine building, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1915.
What is the sailor in the submarine doing?
Based on how big the man is compared to the submarine, how many people do you think should be able to serve at one time on the submarine?
How does this compare to the number of men that could be stationed on a submarine?
Based on the description, what was life like aboard a submarine?
Would you want to serve on a submarine? Why or why not?
Historical Challenges
Submarines played a large role during WWI. Find a firsthand account from someone on board the Lusitania to see what it would have been like to live through a u-boat attack.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Physics: Use the following link to create a submarine simulation:
Dowling, Timothy. Personal Perspectives: World War One. 2005. Retrieved from Google Books.
Speiss, Johannes. “Living aboard German Submarine U-Boat U9 in 1914.” WWI Resource Center. Retrieved from:


Historical Context
Life aboard a WWI submarine was anything but luxurious. German submarines often had 30 men as part of the crew.  Bunks, when available, were shared and if there weren’t enough available, hammocks would be used. 

Originally, British submarines were built primarily to serve in coastal areas, so many didn’t have bathrooms aboard at first. After these were installed, because toilets were pressure controlled, sailors had to be very careful when flushing, so that the flush didn’t backfire. Because of cramped quarters, cleanliness was not the norm in the submarines.  Little fresh water was available and close quarters combined body odors with all the other odors of the ship.  Many men experienced seasickness. 

Submarines would also have bilge water (the bilge is the lowest compartment where two sides meet) full of vomit, food particles, oil, and much more. If this water got into the batteries, chlorine gas could be created forcing the submarine to surface. 

Condensation inside the submarine could cause electrical issues, in addition to making sailors feel as though they lived in a damp cellar.  They would often have to cover their faces with rain clothes or rubber sheets to prevent being dripped on all night long. Because the interior was pressure operated, sailors had to be careful when surfacing.  They had to hold the captain’s legs when opening the hatch, so that he would not be torpedoed out of the boat with the escaping air. 
Essential Question
How does new technology impact war strategies?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of this technology on war strategies.