Robert Fulton's Submarine

Robert Fulton's Submarine
Elizabeth Monroe: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One to two class periods

Required Documents
Building a Submarine


Robert Fulton is best known for his development of the steamboat although he also developed an early submarine he named the Nautilus. Although Fulton was an American he spent 20 years of his life living in France. He was living there at the same time that James Monroe was in Paris serving as the American Minister to France.   At the beginning of the nineteenth century France was at war with Great Britain. Having been recalled after the French Revolution, Monroe was sent back to France by President Jefferson to negotiate the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. His wife Elizabeth who was very popular with the French people accompanied him. A treaty was secured to buy the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon for 15 million dollars. Napoleon needed the money to help finance his war with England.   In 1801 Napoleon heard that Robert Fulton had created a naval craft that could maneuver underwater. This first submarine was called the Nautilus. Napoleon viewed a demonstration of this vessel that was supposed to be able to dive 25 feet underwater and keep three crewmen underwater for an hour. The demonstration did not go well because of some leaks in the Nautilus. This combined with the fact that the French found the idea of submarine warfare ungentlemanly, led to Napoleon passing on Fulton’s invention. Fulton then returned to the United States and began his work on the steamboat.


1. Students will build a model of a submarine that is able to dive and surface by using everyday items.

2.  Students will draw accurate conclusions on the function of submarine.

Materials Required:

Empty 16 or 20 ounce bottle with a hole in the cap (the hole must be big enough to pass a flexible straw through) Three wide rubber bands 24 pennies Aluminum foil Adhesive tape Flexible Straw Large tub of Water Building a submarine direction and response worksheet Making a submarine PPT.


1.  The teacher will begin a discussion by asking the students how a submarine operates. After a the students share their ideas the teacher will inform them that they are going to build a model submarine and place it in water in order to determine how it operates.

2.  The students will then split into groups and each group will build their submarine out of common household items. This lesson has a direction sheet that accompanies it and includes the materials list. There is also a PowerPoint presentation that may be displayed on a larger screen such as a smart board if that is a more convenient way for the teacher and class.

3.  As the students test their submarine in a large tub of water, they will write their observations in their science journal. They will then complete the questions that accompany the lesson on the assignment sheet, or the PowerPoint.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by having students research some of Robert Fulton’s other inventions, such as the steamboat.

Sources & Resources:


Boothroyd, Jennifer.  Robert Fulton: A Life of Innovation. Lerner Publications, 2007.

Bowen, Andy Russell. A Head Full of Notions. Carolrhoda Publications, 1997.


Build a Submarine Simulations

Robert Fulton and Napoleon Bonaparte

Exhibits and Treasures at the Library of Congress


This lesson was developed by Mary Bellis, at, and adapted by Robert McClelland of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.