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Taking the plunge

Plunger is perhaps not the best name for a submarine, but it didn’t scare off President Theodore Roosevelt. Plunger was a pioneer, one of the U.S. Navy’s earliest subs. Launched in 1902 out of New Jersey’s Crescent Shipyard, the 64-foot A-Class submarine had been commissioned at the Holland yard in New Suffolk, New York, on Long Island’s north shore.

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After serving for two years out of Newport, Rhode Island, testing torpedoes and other equipment, Plunger (known as SS-2 and renamed A-1) was sent back to the Long Island facility for routine maintenance. Sea trials were ordered for Aug. 22, 1905, on — and under — Oyster Bay.

Roosevelt’s summer house, Sagamore, was in the same neighborhood. Few have ever served as president with the same energy and zest for the job as “Teddy.” Something as new and exciting as a submarine was more than he could resist.

After alerting naval officials, Roosevelt went down to the waterfront — and for more than just a look-see. Plunger was moored alongside her tug, Apache. Roosevelt greeted the seven-man crew, got a tour of inspection and then went on a series of dives lasting more than two hours. The former Assistant Secretary of the Navy seemed genuinely fascinated and “marveled at the skill and bravery of the crew and the possibilities of the machine itself,” according to reports.

“I went down in it chiefly because I did not like to have the officers and enlisted men think I wanted them to try things I was reluctant to try myself,” the president said. Never had he had such an exciting day, he added.

Plunger went on to a distinguished career before her decommissioning in 1913. At one point, her commander was Ensign Chester Nimitz, who became fleet admiral during World War II.

When the sub was launched, by the way, the word “plunger” referred to a “daring gambler,” one who “took the plunge.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.