Peaceful Submarine Pioneer
“A paper nautilus, that’s all it was at the start.” Simon Lake’s red hair glistened upon his head, as his imagination animated his pencil sketches. Many boys dream of adventures and sunken treasure; Simon Lake was no ordinary boy, he was extraordinary. He had a vision. Childhood naivety allowed him to dream of a vessel that could function under water. He sketched out these drawings, folded them, and placed them safely in his copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Years later he will be known as one of the greatest contributors to submarine technology and an innovator who will forever leave his mark on history.
Even though the development of the modern submarine is accredited to John Holland, an Irish-American inventor who rivaled Lake, it is most improbable that the submarine could have developed to where it is without the contributions of Simon Lake, a simple man who lived here in Milford, Connecticut. Without Lake, who developed submarines mainly as an instrument of peace, the modern submarine would be blind, since it was Lake who developed the predecessor to the periscope. He also developed the twin-hull design, diver’s compartment, even-keel hydroplanes, and many more new technologies.
Simon Lake was born on September 4, 1866 in Pleasantville, New Jersey. His creativity thrived in a family that loved to invent things. His father, John Christopher Lake experimented with flying machines. Simon Lake was naturally inspired to invent. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, a novel of undersea travel, was the force that inspired Lake to start developing ways to make that vision a reality.
Initially Lake met with little success in this field due to the need for military submarines, not scavengers, which were Lake’s specialty. Scavengers are submarines designed for undersea searching and salvaging. Lake’s rivalry with Holland drove Lake to improve his designs. Lake as a businessman created and operated over twelve companies on his own. These companies included: “The Argonaut Salvage Company, Lake and Danenhower Inc., Lake Engineering Company, Ltd., The Lake Submarine Company, The Lake Submarine Salvage Corporation, The Lake Torpedo Boat Company, Connecticut Building and Supply Company, Deep Sea Submarine Salvage Corporation, Connecticut Lakolith Corporation, Bedrock Gold Submarine- Machinery Company, The Submarine Exploration and Recovery Company, and The under Water Recovery Corporation.” These companies made him one of the leading millionaires in Connecticut. Despite this fact, Lake was horrible with money, when asked about his inability to spend money efficiently Lake only said “I’d rather die broke because I had been spending my money doing worthwhile things, than sit around cutting coupons.”Lake tried his early designs in Long Island Sound with some initial success. He held about two thousand patents, and in his day, was just as ambitious as his famous rival. Lake worked quickly and efficiently due to his ability to sketch vehicles before development. Like most inventors, Lake first worked in generalities and did very little with specific details. Even though Lake worked tirelessly on his submarine designs, it was Holland who won the endorsement of the United States Government along with most of its contracts. That very well could be the reason that Simon Lake is not recognized globally for his contributions to the submarine.