August 21, 1905 – Plunger to Oyster Bay today

I was working on the next 41 for Freedom article which is the USS Theodore Roosevelt SSBN 600 when I stumbled on some interesting items related to the early days of submarining.

I had earlier posted the story about Teddy’s Excellent Adventure on the Plunger in 1905 but had not included any of the newspaper articles from the time period. As I got deeper into the Library of Congress Newspaper archives, I realized that there were many different aspects to the first Presidential submarine ride that have not been covered. At least not that I am aware of.

Things that I found include the fact that the ride may not have been as serendipitous as it first appeared. Reading many more recent articles, it seemed as if the occasion was just a circumstance. The more I have read, the more it appears that there may have been more of a plan than I first thought.

To be honest, I have found nothing that directly says that the President was planning on riding the Plunger prior to its visit. Other than the revelation that his daughter had been on one just prior to that time when it submerged next to the pier. Plus some interesting well placed articles that seemed to say that the visit of the Plunger was pretty well orchestrated.

The first article was written 114 years ago today. It talks about the imminent arrival of the Plunge to the area where the President was visiting. The Skipper of the craft has an interesting statement concerning a potential Presidential ride.

Theo. Roosevelt’s Residence, Oyster Bay Long Island, NY

President Expected to Inspect Submarine Boat on Thursday.
On its way to Oyster Bay, where an exhibition will be given for the benefit of President Roosevelt, the submarine boat Plunger will leave the navy yard at 1 o’clock to-day. The trip will take about three hours. The President is expected to make an inspection of the boat at noon Thursday.

The Plunger was to have left the yard yesterday. But at the last minute it was delayed to tune up and adjust the motors. Mechanics were at work on them during the afternoon and evening. The Plunger will probably proceed under her own power until Long Island Sound is reached. Then, unless the water is exceptionally still, she will be taken in tow by the naval tug Apache, which is to act as a convoy.

Lieutenant Charles P. Nelson is in command of the Plunger. With him during the tests will be Lieutenant L S. Shapely and a crew of eleven men. Lieutenant Nelson said yesterday that, so far as he knew, the President did not Intend to take a submarine trip on the Plunger, but he says that if the President expresses a desire to go so far In his study of the workings of the craft he shall feel it his duty to comply with the request of the Chief Magistrate.

As a precaution, in case any of the apparatus for raising the boat goes wrong, two rings have placed in each end of the submarine. Chains from a derrick could be hooked in these, and the boat could be raised to the surface, and even out Of the water entirely, in fifteen minutes. These rings were devised after the accident lo the French submarine, when the entire crew was killed before the boat could be got to the surface.

Aug. 28, 1905

Oyster Bay. Ready In every detail to do her prettiest diving for President Roosevelt, the submarine torpedo boat Plunger arrived In Oyster Bay from the Brooklyn navy yard shortly after six o’clock Tuesday evening. She made the run, convoyed by the naval tug Apache in four hours. The Plunger is commanded by Lieut. Charles H. Nelson and has a crew of seven men. The boat anchored near the naval yacht Sylph, a short distance from the J. West Roosevelt pier, the president’s landing. The crew during their sojourn here will live on board the Apache. The tests will take place probably on Thursday.

Then came the story that was read around the country.

The President rode a submarine for the first time in American history.

Roosevelt Goes Down in Submarine Boat.
Oyster Bay, L. I., Aug. 25

President Roosevelt late this afternoon made a descent in Long Island sound on board the submarine torpedo boat Plunger. He was aboard the vessel about three hours. At one time the little boat was submerged for 50 minutes and in that time was put through all of the submarine feats of which she is capable. The president expressed delight at the novel experience and said that he was immensely impressed with the boat and with the manner in which she was handled. In thus braving the dangers of submarine maneuvering, the president has endeared himself to naval officers and men the world over, and made Lieut. Charles H. Nelson, commander of the Plunger, the proudest and happiest man in the United States Navy.

August 26, 1905

At Bottom of Long Island
FIFTY MINUTE JOURNEY – Roosevelt Guided Boat Himself – Fired Blank Torpedo – Great Results Expected

The submarine as an accepted factor in the naval construction and naval warfare of the future must be frankly accepted. President Roosevelt by making a trip In the Plunger exploring the bottom of Long Island sound and seeing the wonderful little vessel put through all Its underwater evolutions has done more for submarines naval officers say than anybody else aside from the inventors. Great results are expected to follow from the President’s trip In the Plunger.  Every naval authority in the world at attention having been attracted by the Presidents will be looking into the construction and usefulness of the Plunger. The Presidents successful and safe voyage of nearly an hour under water during a storm will more than offset the discouragement which submarine promoters have received from the recent mishaps in the French and English navies. The demonstration that American built submarines completely fill the bill as none other has done causes great enthusiasm among naval people.
Down Fifty Minutes
For fifty minutes, part of the time In In utter darkness President Roosevelt was at the bottom of Oyster Bay. He took the dive in the Plunger while a fierce gale. The President had invited some friends to see the tests of the Plunger from the deck of the Sylph this his morning No one expected that the submarine would stir from her moorings alongside the Apache in stormy weather But the President when the storm was at Its worst slipped down to his private landing and ordered Lieutenant Nelson to take him to the Plunger. The visit was an entire surprise surprises to the crew. When Mr Roosevelt stepped on the tiny platform that serves the Plunger for a deck rain was falling in sheets and a choppy sea was rolling in the mouth. Mr Roosevelt at once stepped into the narrow standing room beneath the con conning tower, the hatches were closed and the Plunger consorted by the tug Apache headed on the surface for the harbors mouth. The Apache stood away and the submarine with the President aboard was at once sent toward the bottom.
Diving and Floating
At a depth of thirty five feet or so there was a halt of a few minutes and then the boat was moved again and sent to the bottom. After the President had been allowed to thoroughly appreciate the hew sensation Lieutenant Nelson gave an exhibition of what is called porpoise diving. The Plunger was rushed to the surface where she remained for five or six seconds long enough for those in command in time of war to sight a warship wars and note her location for purposes of destruction. Then there was a dive to a safe depth and a repetition of the performance. The Plunger was then stopped at a depth of twenty feet. Her engine was stopped and she was sent to the surface stern foremost. Again twenty feet below the storm-swept face of the bay the submarine was made to turn a complete circle and reverse her course in just one. Then she was sent again to the bottom where she lay motionless In order to demonstrate how easy it Is for her to lie In wait under water for a warship.
Put Lights Out
Lieutenant Nelson then extinguished all the lights to show how perfectly the machinery of the boat could be handled by the crew when hen darkness was a necessary precaution. For the first in history the President of the United States was in utter darkness at the bottom of the sea swept by a stinging gale. But the President was more than a passenger. There was nothing that could be done on this perfection of marine ingenuity that he did not attempt with his own hands. He took the wheel in the conning tower with Lieutenant Nelson at his side started the motors, reversed them, operated the submerging apparatus and finally fired a blank tor torpedo. There was no shooting at a target there was not time to range the marks. Judging from the Presidents expressions on coming ashore about 6 o’clock in the Dart the experience was pleasing to him. He congratulated Lieutenant Nelson on the way the Plunger was handled and shook hands with each of this eleven men In the crew.

August 27, 1905

Mr. Roosevelt Learns That Men on Submarine Are Receiving Only Shore Pay and Gives Them Increase
By Associated Press.
OYSTER BAY, Aug. 26 – President Roosevelt with a party of friends and relatives today witnessed a test of the submarine torpedo boat Plunger from the deck of the yacht Sylph. The weather was quite different from that of yesterday when the president himself made a trip In the Plunger and participated in the maneuvers of the tiny vessel, forty feet below the surface of Long Island Sound. A stiff northeastern wind yet was blowing today but the rain had ceased and the sun was shining. The test of the Plunger took place in the waters of the sound a short distance outside the entrance to Oyster Bay. The boat operated in about seven fathoms of water.

Soon after the president and his party boarded the Sylph the Plunger got underway. At ‘the ‘request’ of the president the little vessel performed
some of her feats within the waters of Oyster Bay. While the president was on board the vessel yesterday no attempt was made to discharge a torpedo. As he was anxious to witness that experiment It was arranged that Lieutenant Nelson, the commander of the vessel, and his men would launch one of the projectiles within the bay.
Accompanied by Lieut. Frank Evans, commander of the Sylph, and the president’s cousin, W. Emlen Roosevelt, the president went to the bridge of the Sylph to witness the experiment. After maneuvering a few minutes, making in the meantime several porpoise dives, the Plunger came to the surface and discharged a torpedo. The bow of the vessel rose a few feet out of the water, there was a gush of foam, several fathoms ahead and the torpedo skimmed the surface of the bay for perhaps 200 yards. The projectile was picked- up by one of the Sylph’s launches.
On account of the pressure of business in connection with the peace negotiations President Roosevelt was obliged to leave the Sylph at 10:30 o’clock and return to Sagamore hill. Before leaving he expressed his satisfaction with the maneuvering of the vessel and the notable skill of the men who handled her. He had learned, he said, that the officers and men on the boat were receiving for the services they are now rendering only shore pay although it was manifest that at no time would their services be more hazardous than they are at present. The president has directed that hereafter they shall receive sea pay for their present duties. Their sea pay will begin next Monday.

August 31, 1905

President Roosevelt Went Under the Waves in the Plunger.
Enjoyed the Naval Experience of Resting on the Bottom of the Bay in a Torpedo Boat – Was submerged Fifty Minutes

As soon as the president had descended into the boat, the manholes were closed and, convoyed by the naval tender Apache, the Plunger started for the sound. No maneuvers were attempted until the vessel was well beyond the entrance to the bay. A stiff northeast breeze, which had been blowing since Thursday night kicked up a heavy sea in the sound but the Plunger behaved beautifully. The water where the trial took place is about 40 feet deep, too shallow in the opinion of Lieut. Nelson and his experts to enable the vessel to do her best work. Soon after the vessel reached necessary depth of water she was directed downward until she rested on the bottom of the sound. Then the mechanism of the craft was explained minutely to the president by the lieutenant so that afterward the president experienced no difficulty in understanding the maneuvers which were ‘performed. While the president thus was resting on the bottom of the sound in a submarine boat, a storm 40 feet above him was raging unnoticed. The rain descended in torrents and the north-easter whipped the surface of the water into big rollers, but it was as quiet and peaceful where the president sat as an easy parlor would be.

As the days wore on, the story grew with each new version.

There was a lot of “after the fact” judgment too as recorded in several newspapers. The war between Japan and Russia was very prominent in the American press and Roosevelt’s role as a potential peacemaker was a point of concern and sometimes contention to those who were concerned about his risky behavior on a submarine.

September 5, 1905


It does not take much argument to show that a president of the United ‘States has no business to go down to the nether ‘seas in a submarine.

It is not his job. His life is valuable. He risks it for nothing and a sensation. If the Plunger with a president inside of it had stayed down, as have three submarines in a year, all the world would have been the poorer. Value would have been shaken on nearly every market. Peace would have been more distant in the Far East. War more certain. No one could have found excuse or apology for Theodore Roosevelt if his trip to the bottom of Long Island Sound had had no return ticket.

But all the same, nobody with an ounce of red blood in his veins but was glad that the president did it. It is, doubtless, illogical, irrational and perverse; but we all feel that way. After all, “sporting blood” is worth having. The men who lack it lack the best part of man’s life, and many women will be quick to add: “Of a woman’s life, too.”
Theodore Roosevelt is where he is and does what he does because he is chock full of “sporting blood.” He takes risks. He makes precedents. He
does not hesitate to “butt in.” The submarine trips which he has been taking for a week by way of cable messages to Tokyo and St. Petersburg are, in their way, more risky for the “President of the United States” and fraught with as many perils as the bodily trip of “Theodore Roosevelt” in a submarine; but both were worth doing, and the same qualities led to both.
Civilization exists by sporting blood. In our comfortable, ordered and padded, lives men go stale before their years. They cease to take physical risks. Life becomes tamed and gray for them. It is a good thing to be reminded of the worth of risk for risk’s sake. The man leads but a parched and dry life who by sea or land in some one of the outer world’s manifold ways does not now and then take the daily dare nature gives and enjoy a sheer and perilous risk for the happy sense of having done it. A president who does this puts a little red blood into a dull gray world. He heartens all, in the navy or out of it, whose daily duty is risk, and to all the youth of the land in those precious years when risk and peril are the heaven of life, he ‘has given a new sense and example of the value of “sporting blood.”

September 8, 1905 THE PRESIDENT’S PLUNGE, In the Plunger Criticized

Two Great a Risk to Run.
President Roosevelt’s submarine experience upon the Holland boat Plunger may well be regarded a great triumph for this novel type of fighting machine. When it was first suggested that he President contemplated going down in a submarine, a chorus of friendly protest was raised by the newspapers, which pointed out that in justice to the office he holds, President Roosevelt should under no circumstances take such, chances as those involved apparently in a trip beneath the surface of the waters. It was thereupon announced, with, apparent authority, that President Roosevelt had no intention to accept the hospitality of the Plunger and its commander in this way. However, curiosity got the better of discretion. The President took his dive with Lieutenant Nelson and his gallant crew and came out of the experience safe, pleased and satisfied. It is a great thing for the Holland boat to point to the success of this interesting experiment, it was a great experience for President Roosevelt, who now is clearly a lap ahead for the Notoriety Cup. In as much as it has turned out all right the rest of us can share in the general rejoicing. However, we cannot bring ourselves to entirely forgive President Roosevelt for taking such great chances. Think what it would have meant for the country if things had gone wrong and we had been inflicted with a Fairbanks as President. Atlanta Constitution.

It is not surprising then that a friendlier article shortly followed which brought his action into a more favorable light.

September 23, 1905

On Aug. 25 the President took a 3 1-2 Hour Trip on this Boat
Running the Craft Himself Part of the Time, and Remaining Submerged for Fifty Minutes.
When President Roosevelt took his trip In the submarine boat Plunger It was the first time that a chief executive of the United States had navigated the depths of the sea after the fashion of Captain Nemo. At the time he was forty feel under the waves of Long Island Sound and darting this way and that in the strange craft with all the ease and unconcern of a man operating an automobile over a smooth road the powers of the world were anxiously awaiting the results of Ills efforts to secure peace between Russia and Japan, the administration of a government which controls the affairs of 80,000,000 million people rested upon his shoulders and. all in all, the matter of his life or death was one of importance.
In view of this fact his advisers felt as if it was risking too many great interests for the president to take his life in his hands by descending to the bottom of that branch of the ocean which lies off the shores of Mr. Roosevelt’s home town Oyster Bay, NY.
Everyone knows of the president’s love of adventure, and he quite naturally was tempted by the thought of an experience which some people would shrink from undertaking. As to the danger Involved, It Is said he satisfied himself It was more Imaginary than real and that submarine navigation has now readied a stage in the United States where a trip under the waves Is no more foolhardy than a trip under
the skyscrapers of New York In the far famed subway. Although the British and French have met with disasters in the navigation of submarine craft, the history of such navigation of recent years in the United States has been exceptionally free from fatalities.
The Plunger is in command of Lieutenant Charles P. Nelson, who won the sobriquet of “Daredevil Nelson” while fighting on the Gloucester under
Wainwright at the battle of Santiago in the Spanish war. He has won a reputation as an expert in submarine navigation, and the president felt that
he was not Incurring too great danger in placing himself in his charge. The Plunger was launched in 1902. The vessel has a speed under water of seven miles an hour and on the surface of more than eight miles an hour. Two sets of motive power are provided—an electric motor for submarine work and a gasoline engine for surface work. Over 300 dives have been made by the Plunger and on one occasion, at Newport, she made the record plunge of 146 feet.

The final epilogue on the story came with the fulfilment of the promise to reward the submariners that he had earlier made. This was the first of many times that submariners would be given additional recognition for the dangers they faced in this still developing type of craft.

Roosevelt sees to it That the Sailors Get More Money.
(Special in the Daily Press.)

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 1905. –President Roosevelt was so impressed with the arduous character of the work of sailors on submarines the day he went, to the bottom of the sound off Oyster Bay on the submarine Plunger, that be recently promulgated an order increasing the pay of enlisted men on this type of vessel. Beside the five dollars a mouth extra pay, they now receive, submarine Blue Jackets will receive one dollar a day additional compensation for each day or part, of which they spend below the water in a submarine. This extra pay is limited to $15 per calendar month.

There are many fine stories that exist about the first Presidential dive.

As you can see from the newspaper articles, there are also many versions of what actually happened. In the end, the real outcome was the United States seeing at an early stage that submarines would be an important part of the future. Exactly what that future would look like was still a few decades away. But it all began with a very special passenger taking a very short ride.

Mister Mac


Plunger at Pearl      ALL HANDS March 1963

The newest addition to the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force arrived in Pearl Harbor early this year when USS Plunger (SSN 595) docked at the Submarine Base. Commissioned 21 Nov 1962 at Vallejo, Calif., Plunger is the Navy’s 27th nuclear-powered submarine. Combining the hydrodynamic shaped hull form of Albacore with a nuclear reactor plant, Plunger has a capability of prolonged submerged operations and high submerged speeds. She is 278 feet in length and displaces about 4400 tons. Extensive use of sound isolating methods and materials, as well as advanced sonar equipment, makes her an effective antisubmarine weapon. Designed to carry nine officers and 85 enlisted men, Plunger can remain at sea undetected and self-sufficient for months at a time. Plunger is the third ship to bear this name. In 1893 Congress provided authorization for the first sub marine to be built at a cost of $200, 000. President Theodore Roosevelt became the first Chief Executive to ride in a submarine on 25 Mar 1905, aboard Plunger in Oyster Bay, N. Y. The second Plunger was built in 1936 and saw active duty until she was stricken from the Naval Register of Ships on 5 Jul 1957. During World War II the second Plunger was cited many times for heroism in action during her 12 war patrols. Plunger will raise the number of nuclear-powered submarines operating out of Pearl Harbor to five.


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