Drebbel was a Dutch inventor whose many inventions included the first submarine.
Cornelius Drebbel was born in Alkmaar in the Netherlands in 1572. He had a basic education and was initially apprenticed to a painter and engraver Hendrick Goltzius, who probably introduced him to alchemy. Drebbel became increasingly interested in inventions and as his fame grew, he attracted the attention of the new king of England, James I, who was keen to gather explorers, theologians, economists and alchemists around him at court. Consequently he invited Drebbel to England in 1604.
While at court, Drebbel demonstrated a number of his inventions. He was most famed for his perpetual motion machine, which told the time, date, and season, and was mounted in a globe on pillars. The invention became so famous that Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, invited Drebbel to Prague in 1610 and 1619. Turbulent imperial politics saw him arrested on both occasions and it was only royal interventions from England that ensured his release.
It was at around this time that Drebbel started making his submarine, which was probably based on a rowing boat with raised and meeting sides, covered in greased leather, with a watertight hatch in the middle, a rudder and four oars. Under the rowers' seats were large pigskin bladders, connected by pipes to the outside. Rope was used to tie off the empty bladders;. In order to dive, the rope was untied and the bladders filled. To surface the crew squashed the bladders flat, squeezing out the water.
Drebbel went on to build two more submarines, each one bigger than the last. The final model had six oars and could carry 16 passengers. It was demonstrated to the king and thousands of Londoners on the Thames, and could stay submerged for three hours at a depth of 15 feet. How Drebbel maintained an air supply remains a mystery.
After James died and Charles I became King, Drebbel was employed by the Office of Ordnance, making secret weapons for the King, including an unsuccessful floating petard (bomb). Drebbel died in London on 7 November 1633.
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