U.S. Launches First Nuclear Submarine

U.S. #BK279 – America’s first preside booklet honoring a century of U.S. Navy submarines.

On January 21, 1954, the USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine, was launched.

Accounts of boats submerging in the water date back to the 1560s, though the first verifiable vessel was designed and built in 1620.

U.S. #2838e honors the role of submarines in World War II.

Patents for submarines and submersible boats were submitted in the 1700s, and in 1800, Robert Fulton designed a human-powered submarine, also called the Nautilus. Improvements and advances in technology followed and by the 1900s, most submarines were diesel-powered. Submarines were used widely in both World Wars, but their dependence on diesel fuel limited the amount of time they could be under water.

In July 1951, Congress approved the creation of a nuclear-powered submarine for the U.S. Navy. Hyman G. Rickover, known as “Father of the Nuclear Navy”, oversaw the Nautilus’ planning and construction.

U.S. #3373-77 includes a Los Angeles Class sub named for Hyman G. Rickover.

On June 14, 1952. President Harry S. Truman visited the Connecticut boat yard to lay the keel, signaling the start of construction. Building the Nautilus took about a year and a half. Once it was completed, the Navy held a special launch ceremony on January 21, 1954. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower broke the customary bottle of champagne on the ship’s bow. She was the first president’s wife to ever christen a U.S. Navy submarine.

The Nautilus was commissioned into the Navy that September and the following January entered service with its commander stating, “Underway on nuclear power.” As the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus quickly broke all existing under water speed and distance records.

Cambodia #1379-83 includes a stamp honoring the Nautilus.

In April 1958, the Nautilus began “Operation Sunshine,” aimed at becoming the first submerged ship to travel under the North Pole. On the first attempt, the sub was unable to find enough space between the bottom of the ice and the ocean floor. But the second try was successful.

U.S. #1128 honors the 50th anniversary of Admiral Robert Peary’s voyage to the North Pole and the journey of the USS Nautilus under the polar ice.

On August 3, 1958, the Nautilus reached the pole. The crew encountered more difficulties – navigation became difficult once the submarine approached the 85-degree longitude mark (the North Pole is at 90 degrees). Magnetic compasses and other instruments became inaccurate. But with the use of specially designed equipment, they were able to complete the mission. To reward the success of the journey, the entire crew was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation – the first one presented during peacetime.

The Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 and designated a National Historic Landmark two years later. Today it lives on a submarine museum in Groton, Connecticut.

Click here to see video of the Nautilus’ launch and here for photos and more about the sub.

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  1. The first known submarine in America was built by Davis Bushnell in Conn. after he learned to explode gun powder under water. Attempts to attach the explosives to a British ship, in NY harbor failed. The fact was made known by President Jefferson, in a speech, years later. That sub was named the “Turtle”.

  2. I’m sorry, I had to chuckle a bit when I read “Accounts of boats submerging in the water date back to the 1560’s”. My minds eye saw a group of failed boat builders watching another of their creations slowly sink beneath the surface. No intention of being an under water vessel. 😀

    Congrats to the Nautilus1

  3. Reading this post I could not help blending fiction with fact. Captain Nemo, scuba tanks shaped like giant conch shells, bikini clad divers, sonar pings, giant squid, krakens and the ultimate imaginations one develops as a child of the 60’s. Thanks for the flashback.

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