Cornelius Drebbel

Cornelius Drebbel

Infobox Person
name = Cornelius Drebbel

image_size = 200px
caption = Cornelius Drebbel
birth_date = 1572
birth_place = Alkmaar
death_date = 7 November 1633
death_place = London
education = Hendrick Goltzius
occupation = inventor
spouse = Sophia Jansdochter
parents =
children =

Cornelius Jacobszoon Drebbel (Alkmaar, Holland, 1572 - London, November 7 1633) was the Dutch inventor of the first navigable submarine in 1620.

Drebbel's legacy

Drebbel became famous for his 1619 invention of a microscope with two convex lenses. It was the first microscope with two optical lenses.

He also built the first navigable submarine in 1620 while working for the English Royal Navy. Using William Bourne's design from 1578, he manufactured a steerable submarine with a leather-covered wooden frame. Between 1620 and 1624 Drebbel successfully built and tested two more submarines, each one bigger than the last. The final (third) model had 6 oars and could carry 16 passengers. This model was demonstrated to King James I in person and several thousand Londoners. The submarine stayed submerged for three hours and could travel from Westminster to Greenwich and back, cruising at a depth of from 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 metres). Drebbel even took James in this submarine on a test dive beneath the Thames, making James I the first monarch to travel underwater. [ [ KING JAMES VI and I] ] This submarine was tested many times in the Thames, but it couldn't attract enough enthusiasm from the Admiralty and was never used in combat. Drebbel's most famous written work was "Een cort Tractat van de Naturae de Elementen" (Leiden, 1608). He was also involved in the invention of mercury fulminate. [ [ Advanced Main Group Chemistry (I) - Rings, Chains, Clusters ] ]

Drebbel also invented a chicken incubator and a mercury thermostat that automatically kept it at a constant temperature. This is one of the first recorded feedback-controlled devices. He also attempted to develop a working air conditioning system. The invention of a working thermometer is also ascribed to Drebbel [ [ Scientific American. / Volume 5, Issue 50, August 31, 1850] ]

It has also been speculated that Drebbel made use of a way to produce oxygen, possibly from a nitrate. Drebbel had been taught by the alchemist Michael Sendivogius (1566-1636) (perhaps when both were at the court of Rudolf II) that warming "nitre" (saltpeter) produced oxygen (considered the food of life). [Michael Sendivogius, The Alchemical Letters of Michael Sendivogius to the Rosicrucian Society, Holmes Pub Group Llc, ISBN 155818404X] The most reliable source suggesting the use of oxygen is a note by Robert Boyle. In 1662 Boyle wrote that he had spoken with "an excellent mathematician", who was still alive and had been on the submarine, who said that Drebbel had a "chemical liquor" that would replace that "quintessence of air" that was able to "cherish the vital flame residing in the heart".

Near the end of his life, in 1633, Drebbel was living in virtual poverty running an ale house in England.

A small lunar crater Drebbel has been named after him.

A theory in Renaissance Magazine (issue #53, March 2007) speculates that the Voynich Manuscript may be Drebbel's cipher notebook on microscopy and alchemy.


While making a coloured liquid for a thermometer Cornelius dropped a flask of Aqua regia on a tin window sill, and as the story goes, discovered that stannous chloride makes the color of carmine much brighter and durable. Though the inventor himself never made much money from his work, his daughters Anna and Catharina and his sons-in-law Abraham and Johannes Sibertus Kuffler set up a very successful dye works. The recipe for "color Kufflerianus" was kept a family secret and the new bright red color was all the rage in Europe. [Amy Butler Greenfield,A Perfect Red,Harper Collins 2005,ISBN 0-06-052275-5] [ [ Diary of Samuel Pepys ] ]

Drebbel in popular culture

Drebbel was honored in an episode of the cartoon "Sealab 2021" during a submarine rescue of workers on a research station in the Arctic. A German U-boat captain, who mysteriously "came with the sub", fired a pistol in celebration at the mention of Drebbel, to shouts of, "SIEG HEIL! CORNELIUS DREBBEL!" Also, on the Sealab 2021 Season 3 DVD, Cornelius Drebbel has two DVD commentaries devoted to the story of his life. However, the first is highly inaccurate and the narrator of the second gets easily distracted, so much so that he spends most of the eleven minutes of commentary talking about the languages of northern Europe and the domestic policies of the Swiss.

Also, a portrayal of Cornelius Drebbel and his submarine can be briefly seen in "The Four Musketeers" (1974). A small leatherclad submersible surfaces off the coast of England, and the top opens clamshell-wise revealing Cornelius Drebbel and the Duke of Buckingham.

In the Dutch Eighty Years War comic Gilles de Geus, Drebbel is a supporting character to the comics warhero Gilles. He is drawn as a typical crazy inventor, simillar to Q in the Bond-series. His submarine plays a role in the comic.



* [ BBC bio]
* Brett McLaughlin, Cornelis Drebbel and the First Submarine (1997)
* L.E. Harris, The Two Netherlanders, Humphrey Bradley and Cornelis Drebbel (Cambridge, 1961)
*nl F.M. Jaeger, Cornelis Drebbel en zijne tijdgenooten, (Groningen, 1922)
* [ Who was Cornelis J. Drebbel ?]

External links

* [ Drebbel Institute for Mechatronics: Who was Cornelis J. Drebbel?]
* [ Cornelius Drebbel:inventor of the submarine]
* [ Cornelis Drebbel (1572 - 1633)]
* [ The Voynich Manuscript: Drebbel's lost notebook?]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Voynich manuscript — The Voynich manuscript is a mysterious illustrated book written in an indecipherable text. It is thought to have been written between 1450 and 1520. The author, script and language of the manuscript remain unknown.Over its recorded existence, the …   Wikipedia

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