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Commander of 1st nuclear submarine dies at 94

Eugene Wilkinson, a retired Navy vice admiral who helped guide the early development of the Navy’s nuclear-powered fleet and who commanded the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, when it was launched in the 1950s, died July 11 at his home in Del Mar, Calif. He was 94.

A son, Stephen Wilkinson, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

Eugene Wilkinson, who also held the initial command of the Navy’s first nuclear-powered surface ship in the early 1960s, had taught college-level chemistry and mathematics before serving aboard submarines during World War II.

His dual background as a professor and naval officer caught the attention of Adm. Hyman Rickover, who directed the Navy’s postwar program in nuclear propulsion. Historical accounts have noted that Rickover selected Wilkinson at least in part because he did not attend the U.S. Naval Academy and had an independent approach to shipbuilding and sailing.

“Rickover was looking for guys bright enough to think, design and build something that hadn’t been built before,” said retired Vice Adm. Kenneth Carr, who served aboard the Nautilus with Wilkinson. “He was looking for a guy who had the practical experience in submarining and the dreaming experience of being a scientist.”

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