It is striking that both the beginning and the end of the Cornelis Drebbelstraat in Watergraafsmeer overlook a (modest) waterway. Cornelis Drebbel (1572 – 1633) was the first to design a working submarine.
Drebbel grew up in Alkmaar in a wealthy family. He did not go to university but found work as an engraver and cartographer after being apprenticed to the famous engraver Hendrick Goltzius. Drebbel was voted the greatest Alkmaarder of all time in 2013 – well ahead of greats such as Marco Borsato and Rudy Carell.
In addition to his regular work, Drebbel started working as an inventor. In 1598 he received a patent for a perpetual motion machine, which was driven by fluctuations in temperature and air pressure. Two years later, he acquired the patent for an improved type of chimney. Drebbel’s inventions did not go unnoticed and in the early 17th century he served several times at the royal court of England. There he designed fountains, special effects such as thunder and lightning and moving images to liven up the masquerades at court.
dribbles most famous invention is the world’s first working submarine, which he tested in the British Thames in the 1620s. It was a wooden boat covered with pigskin that had been greased, making it watertight. Those on board lifted swarf from the submarine, around which was more insulating leather, which they had to row with. The submarine could sail a few meters below the water’s surface and was only used for test trips – although Drebbel developed other weapons that were used by the Royal Navy. Leonardo Da Vinci previously made sketches of a submarine, but Drebbel’s vessel was the first known model that was actually built and successfully tested.
Talk to NRC
At the bottom of this article
can subscribers respond. Here you can read more about responding to NRC.nl.
Drebbel also designed an automatic lens grinding machine, with which microscopes and telescopes were made that are sold throughout Europe. He was friends with the Dutch poet-diplomat Constantijn Huygens – who became interested in optics through this band. Another well-known acquaintance was the English philosopher Francis Bacon, who in a book set out a utopian society based on several of Drebbel’s ideas for future inventions.
The Cornelis Drebbelstraat, in which since 1999 the colorful artwork Still life by Gijs Assman hanging from a series of homes for the elderly is in good company with other inventors, such as Sacharias Jansen, Simon Stevin and Willem Beukelszoon. In addition to several streets, a moon crater, a depot ship for the Dutch Submarine Service and a character in the Dutch Harry Potter translation are named after Cornelis Drebbel.
Photo Olivier Middendorp
Do you have a nice tip yourself? for a sign of the street, square, bridge, park or that one unknown narrow alley in Amsterdam that is worth highlighting? The editors are happy to receive your suggestion! Mail to [email protected]