Inventor of the Torpedo – 1875

Inventor of the Torpedo – 1875

What follows is the story of how Giovanni Luppis and Robert Whitehead produced the first torpedo in the city of Rijeka. Their weapon has since become an irreplaceable asset in naval warfare.

This day in 1875 marked the death of Giovanni Luppis, the discoverer of a weapon that what was later developed into the torpedo, which became an irreplaceable asset in naval warfare. He was born in the Austro-Hungarian port city of Rijeka (now part of Croatia) in 1813, in a well-off noble family of shipowners. He was educated as a navy officer, and later became a Frigate Captain in the Austrian Navy. He was of mixed Italian-Croatian descent, and is therefore sometimes known as Ivan Lupis or Ivan Vukić.

Giovanni Luppis got his idea for the torpedo in the middle of the 19th century. His first idea was to design some sort of boat filled with explosives, which would be controlled from the coast using ropes. Such an unmanned craft would then be aimed at an enemy ship. In time, Luppis improved his idea and made several prototypes. In 1860 he presented one of them to Emperor Francis Joseph I. While the demonstration was a success, the Austrian Navy did not accept the weapon for military use.

An important moment for the further development of the torpedo took place when Giovanni Luppis met British engineer Robert Whitehead, which occurred in Rijeka in 1864. Whitehead accepted Luppis’s idea, and then they developed it further. For example, an explosive charge was set below the craft’s waterline, which made the torpedo an underwater weapon. In addition, automatic guidances for depth and direction were introduced.

An interesting question is what was Robert Whitehead, a Briton, doing in Rijeka? He was the son of a cotton-bleacher from near Manchester. He was educated as an engineer, and found employment outside his homeland – first at the shipyard in France, and later in Italy. He moved from Trieste (then part of Austria-Hungary) to Rijeka, where he worked as a director in a company that produced steam boilers and engines for the Austrian Navy. It was at this time that he met Giovanni Luppis, and the torpedo was the fruit of their collaboration.

Giovanni Luppis received a title of nobility from Emperor Francis Joseph I, and became known as “von Rammer”. Whitehead was quite successful in the financial sense. He married his offspring quite well. Namely, Whitehead’s daughter married Count Georg Anton Hoyos. Whitehead’s granddaughter, who inherited the family wealth, married the famous Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp and bore him seven children before her untimely death. The widowed captain von Trapp and his children were immortalized in the famous movie The Sound of Music. Whitehead’s factory in Rijeka (Torpedofabrik Whitehead & Comp.) was later renamed Torpedo.

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