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Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol

Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol inventor of the mechanically driven submarine. Born September 28th 1819 in Spain, in the Catalan city of Figueres.

This engineer, artist and intellectual was the son of a cooper. With great family effort, Monturiol went to high school in Cervera and got a law degree in Barcelona in 1845 although he would never work as a lawyer.

His friendship with Abdó Terrades brought him to join the Republican Party and to sympathize with the socialist ideas of Étienne Cabet. He had to exile in France in 1848 because of his political ideas.

Upon his return he learned the job of typesetter and set up a print where he edited The Family Mother (1846) and The Fraternity (1847-48).

His stay in Cadaqués allowed him to observe the dangerous job of coral harvesters and prompted him to think of submarine navigation. With the help of a group of friends he went back to Barcelona and organized the society that sponsored his first submarine, the Ictineo I. The first dive of Ictineo I took place on the 23rd of September 1859 in the harbour of Barcelona. The partial success of this dive generated popular enthusiasm but brought no support from the government.

The Ictineo I had a length of 7 meters, a beam of 2.5 meters and 3.5 meters depth. It was a cylinder with elliptical section and was powered by a crew of six men.

In 1864 the company La Navegación Submarina was formed and two years later the Ictineo II was finished. This was a much bigger submarine of 17 meters length, 3.5 meters beam and 3 meters depth with 65t of displacement and a crew of 20 men. It was built with olive tree staves with oak reinforcements and a 2 millimeter tick copper layer.

The Ictineo II was the first mechanically powered steam driven submarine and its intended use was to ease the harvest of coral. It dived 13 times up to a depth of 30m. Due to financial problems, the Ictineo II was sold as scrap in 1868. A replica of the Ictineo II can be seen at the harbour of Barcelona.

Other inventions from Monturiol include a process to speed up the manufacturing of adhesive paper which he used when he was named director of the National Stamp Factory in Madrid.

Monturiol died September 6th 1885.

Ictineo II replica at the harbour of Barcelona; Picture from Flemming Mahler Larsen Oct. 2003.