Simon’s Sub Counter

Simon Lake Who?

Simon Lake
Pioneer Submarine Inventor
by Jeffrey B. Lake, 1992


     Simon Lake Who?  An oft-times response to the inventor-engineer considered the" Father of the Modern Submarine" by authorities of naval history [Picture 1]. Inspired by Jules Verne's 20,000 Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, Simon Lake forged the "dream" into the world's first practical submarine. He experimented with a crudely built 14 foot wooden vessel in 1894, the "Argonaut Jr." The boat was only designed to submerge in shallow water, travel around the bottom, and to test the opening of a hatch in a pressurized compartment. A success, Simon formed the Lake Submarine Company in 1895. He produced The" Argonaut", a 36-foot submarine that could operate in the open seas on the surface, at any desired depth, navigate on the ocean floor as an automobile drives on land, and would allow a diver to exit and enter through an open hatch. The phenomenal success of the 1898 two thousand mile journey from Norfolk to New York brought a congratulatory telegram from Jules Verne to Simon Lake. The "dream" was realized.
     Simon Lake formed the Lake Torpedo Boat Company at Bridgeport, Ct. in 1901 and produced the "Protector", a military submarine built for the United States and other foreign governments, including Russia, Austria, and Germany. Simon provided consultation services to Italy, Germany, England, Norway, and Sweden and maintained offices in Russia, Germany, Poland, Austria, and England. He shared part of his London office with the Wright brothers who were also forced to market their inventions abroad due to lack of interest by the US government. The inventors first met when the Wright brothers submitted their airplane designs to Simon Lake for his opinion, possibly prior the famous Kitty hawk flight, one might suspect; however, more likely in London, as they’re primary involvement documents that it was in England for they shared the same promoter and attorney, Flint and Hart O’ Berg.
     Simon's European venture was a rapidly growing phenomena, however with the unfolding of WWI, Simon Lake answered his country's call for his proven submarine expertise. He returned home to build submarines for the US Navy and Shipping Board, giving up 40 million dollars in foreign contracts. Many Lake-type submarines were produced by the Lake Torpedo Boat Company in Bridgeport, Norfolk Virginia, and Long Beach California.
     Governments of the world chose submarines for military use; however, Simon Lake promoted the peaceful uses of his submarine technologies for the benefit of mankind. He supported "farming" the natural resources of the sea; such as, harvesting edible food stuffs, pearls, sponges, gold, and other minerals. He designed cargo submarines for safe and efficient transport of oil and other cargoes. In 1930, Simon Lake joined forces with Sir Hubert Wilkens (polar explorer), Lincoln Ellsworth (polar aviator), and Sloan Dannenhower (commander of the first airship that crossed the arctic), in the first Trans-Arctic Submarine Expedition. Simon's purpose was to explore under-ice passageways for the use of commercial submarines through northern routes. They acquired the decommissioned "O-12" (Defender) from the Navy, a military submarine originally built in 1918 by The Lake Torpedo Boat Company at a cost of $1,000,000.. The vessel was re outfitted for the arctic expedition and christened the Nautilus on March 24, 1931 by Jean Jules Verne and Lady Wilkens. The brave crew of the Nautilus set sail for the North Pole on June 4, 1931 and successfully toured an area of the arctic region.
     Simon Lake was called the "Gentle Genius," a man ahead of his times. He pioneered Sub-aqueous Tunnels and designed a tunnel for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1903 and presented an approved tunnel design for under the English Channel. Simon also pioneered building hollow, insulated fire proof, walls, partitions, and roofs made of reinforced concrete. He formed the Lakeolith Corporation in the 20's and manufactured prefabricated homes and buildings through Sunshine Homes Corporation. Unfortunately, the housing industry did not appreciate a home built complete for $1500. Nor did they accept a design for high-rise parking, stating, "Who would want to park up in the air in a vertically constructed garage?"
     There are many tributes to Simon Lake throughout the country: The Simon Lake School in Milford, CT.; the Simon Lake Science Building in Atlantic City, as well as a full scale replica of the Argonaut Jr. in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. A significant tribute was paid by the US Navy with the naming of a ship, a submarine tender (AS-33), the USS SIMON LAKE, Commissioned in 1964.
     Another tribute exists, the preservation of the original collection of Simon Lake historical materials by his descendants. Many materials were placed in museums, however, the quintessence of his works remained with the Lake Family and now form the Simon Lake Collection. The collection is primarily paper materials that were essentially "time-capsuled" until recent years. They include original drawings, blueprints, writings and lectures, business papers, letters and photographs, including cancelled checks and stock certificates signed by Simon Lake: The Collection was examined by Dr. Philip K. Lundeberg, curator of Naval History at the Smithsonian Institute and described as the "best collection of any marine engineer's work in existence; a priceless collection."
     As great-grandson of the famous inventor, I am providing an additional tribute by the formation of The Simon Lake Project, an endeavor organized to promote the good name and works of Simon Lake. The historical materials clearly lend themselves to a multitude of publication opportunities, including the release of original, unpublished manuscripts. .
     Many people have been captivated by the life of Simon Lake: collectors, historians, naval buffs and some motion picture studios. They feel his life story should be published and produced so that Simon Lake may take his proper place in the annals of history. And so do I! The extensive documentation in this collection shall provide a broad base of information to support a unique story on the life of Simon Lake; a final tribute to an unsung American Patriot!

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