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Inventor & Engineer

Simon Lake, Inventor & Engineer

Extracted from the Lake Genealogy, 1915, and edited by Thomas Alva Edison Lake (Son of Simon Lake)
Re-edited by Jeffrey B. Lake


He was born at Pleasantville, New Jersey on September 4,1866.

Son of Christopher J. Lake, whose father was the Honorable Simon Lake, one of the founders of Atlantic City and Ocean City, New Jersey. The Hon. Simon Lake and his brothers built the first highway and bridge to Atlantic City and was instrumental in having the first railroads established to both cities.

Simon Lake is descended from American Pioneers on both the paternal and maternal side. John Lake was one of the founders and a magistrate of Gravesend, now South Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1640, and Jeremy Adams (from who Mr. Lake's mother descended) was one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut in 1636.

Simon Lake was a member of the Society of Founders and Patriots of America; The Society of the Colonial Wars, and the Sons of the American Revolution.

Many members of the family have been ship captains and others have been inventors of note in various fields, so Mr. Lake may have inherited the inventive and mechanical mind, at least he showed early aptitude in this direction, having taken out an invention for a mechanical movement when a boy only 18 years of age. He is best known from his Submarine Boat Inventions, for which he has taken out over 100 patents, but he has taken out patents for many other machines and devices, many of which have been used in other industries. He achieved over 200 patents in his lifetime.


Mr. Lake was educated in the public schools of Philadelphia, Pa. and Toms River, N.J. and then took a business course at the Clinton Liberal Institute at Fort Plain, New York and also a mechanical course at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

He prides himself on his ability to do most any kind of mechanical work with his own hands, as he took courses in drafting, pattern making, molding, and machine work under experienced teachers and in his father's foundry and machine shop, then at Ocean City, N.J. in which business he was made superintendent and taken into partnership with his father when only 18 years of age.

In 1888 he went to Baltimore, Maryland to introduce a Steering Gear which he had patented, used principally on oyster vessels; he also patented and manufactured Oyster Harvesting Equipment, winders, dredges, and windlasses, also a can capping machine, with which two men could do the work of 25.


While living in Baltimore he made his first plans for a Military Submarine Torpedo Boat and submitted them to the U.S. Navy in 1892, which four out of five members of the Naval Board appointed to investigate the merits of plans submitted by various inventors, wished to have built. But Mr. Lake had no financial backing or political influence and was not in position to make a formal bid for the work, the award was given to another concern on the guarantee of performance which performance was never successfully met. As a matter of fact, the vessel which they built at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars of Government and private funds, was never submerged except when it sank accidentally at her dock.


Mr. Lake then turned his attention to building a commercial submarine and after making some experiments with a crude submarine, The Argonaut Junior, only 14 feet long, which he made of wood, largely by his own hands, he built the Argonaut which was the first successful submarine ever built which operated in the open sea and which could be propelled either on the surface, at any desired depth, or which could be navigated over the water-bed itself, as an automobile is driven on land. In fact, Mr. Lake drove this Submarine Automobile on the bottom of the Petuxent River and in the Chesapeake Bay and on the bottom of the Ocean off the coast of Virginia before automobiles came into general use on land. The Argonaut was driven by a 30 horse power gasoline engine.

After experimenting with the Argonaut at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay and on the coast during the Spanish-American war, where he demonstrated the ability of vessels of her type to destroy the system of mine defenses then in vogue. He brought the ''Argonaut" from Norfolk to New York and continued his experiments around Sandy-Hook. The "Argonaut" was caught out in one storm in which over 200 vessels were lost on the coast, in which Mr. Lake was obliged to strap himself to the conning tower to prevent being carried away by the solid green seas which broke over the vessel. The trip from Norfolk to New York brought a congratulatory telegram from Jules Verne, and the "Argonaut" was featured in most all of the Technical and Scientific papers of that period, as having solved the problem of building successful submarines. The "Argonaut" was the first vessel in which men could traverse over the water-bed and through an open door, through which door men could enter, gather objects from the bottom of the sea, or through which door men could, by donning a diving dress, pass back and forth as readily as passing to and fro through a door in a house on land. This ability to recover objects from the bottom of the sea and to perform salvage operations is a special characteristic of Mr. Lake's commercial submarines, which places them in a distinct class from the usual type of Military Submarines which did not have the ability to do that kind of work.

After completing his experiments off Sandy Hook, he brought the "Argonaut" to New York and lengthened her 20 feet. He then took her to Bridgeport, Connecticut and conducted further experiments in locating sunken wrecks and recovering their cargoes successfully and profitably. This business was going along very nicely. He earned 55% in five months operations and his company declared two dividends of 10% each from a portion of their profits. Then Mr. Lake received a telegram from the late Senator Eugene Hale, Chairman of the Senate Naval Committee, asking him to come to Washington and submit plans to the Navy Department for a military submarine torpedo boat, which Mr. Lake did and submitted plans for three types to the Board on Construction, at that time composed of Admirals Melville, Bowles, O'Neill, Bradford and Captain Sigsby, who congratulated him on his plans as being superior to anything they had seen, and selected one which Mr. Lake called the "Harbor Defense" type, which they requested Mr. Lake to build and submit for trials.


Mr. Lake then laid aside his salvage work and formed the Lake Torpedo Boat Company and built the "Protector" at Bridgeport, Connecticut and conducted trials with her off Newport, Rhode Island during the winter of 1903 in the presence of a Board of Officers appointed by President Taft, then secretary of War. This Board was headed by General Arthur Murry, after-wards Chief of the Coast Defense. The Board spent several hours on the boat and witnessed Mr. Lake locate a submarine cable by traveling over the bottom. A run was also made under a field of ice in Narrates Bay. This was the first voyage ever made under ice in a submarine. The Board highly endorsed the "Protector" and recommended that five of these boats be purchased for use in submarine defense etc. but the representatives of the Holland-type submarine had powerful connections in Washington and Mr. Lake was denied. The Russian-Japanese war started and both Japan and Russia wished to purchase the "Protector", after witnessing trials in Long Island Sound. But Russia outbid Japan and the "Protector" was shipped to Russia and Mr. Lake was engaged to go over there with some of his crew and train the Russian officers and men in handling her. The Russians had also ordered other submarines to be built in Germany, France and others from the U.S., but they all failed to prove satisfactory except for the "Protector" class submarines.


Mr. Lake then remained abroad for several years and built many other boats for Russia. He also built Austria's first submarines and was frequently called in consultation in other countries - Italy, Germany - England - Norway and Sweden. He had offices in St. Petersburg, Russia, Berlin, Germany, Poland, Austria and London, England in addition to his home office at Bridgeport, Connecticut. These were busy years for Mr. Lake as he had to travel over 17,000 miles to supervise the work that was being done in various countries.

His company's European agent was Mr. Hart Over who was associated with Mr. Charles R. Flint of New York. Mr. Flint had become interested in the Wright Brothers flying machine and had an opportunity to secure the European rights to the Wright inventions, the plans and specifications of which were submitted to Mr. Lake for his opinion by Mr. Berg, as to whether he (Lake) considered them practical or not. This was before the Wright's had made their first public flight. Mr. Lake advised Berg to go into it, which he did, and the Wrights then after making their first public flight in America, came to France and Mr. Berg sold their rights to that country. The Wrights occupied a part of the Lake Company's offices in London for a time.

The "Protector" was shipped from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok and was the only submarine that went into commission during the Russian-Japanese war, although several other Lake boats were on their way there just before the war closed. The Russians were so pleased with the "Protector" and the other boats performances that they wished Mr. Lake to remain in Russia and build up a fleet to take the place of their battleships which had been sunk by the Japanese. They offered to turn over to him one of their large shipyards and provide him with a working capital of fifty million dollars to start building submarines with a handsome profit, but Mr. Lake had a family of three young children and wanted them brought up in his own country and so was adverse to accepting Russia's offer.


Krupp, whom he had advised how to make their submarines function satisfactory after their first failures, learning of this, then offered to take over the Russian business and pay Mr. Lake four hundred thousand marks a year and 121/2% royalty on all Russian business and 6% on all German submarines and 7 1/2% on all Italian business which they might secure as Mr. Lake had previously been called to Rome to show the Italians how to build submarines. A contract was drawn to this effect which was approved by Krupp Directors, but instead of signing it, Mr. Lake sent the contract to America to be passed upon by his directors, who objected to its terms which necessitated a trip by Mr. Lake to America. He was taken sick on the Lusitania, due to stress of over work, the doctor said, and it was seven months before he was able to return to Germany and then he found that as revolution had started in Russia, Krupps did not want to go there and as they had by having had Mr. Lake's plans and an opportunity to inspect his Russian boats and also learned that Mr. Lake had not taken out patents in Germany, they were free to build the Lake type there without paying any royalty, which they proceeded to do, and so Mr. Lake then decided to return to America, which he did and build the Lake Torpedo Boat Company's plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where many millions of dollars worth of successful submarines were built for the U.S. Government. Another plant was taken over by the Lake Company at Long Beach, California, where submarines and other ships were built. Mr. Lake also organized and was the principal owner of the Housatonic Shipbuilding Company at Stratford, Connecticut and there successfully built six steamships for the U.S. Shipping Board, and during his over twenty years in ship building business was successful in building up a very efficient organization of submarine specialists, probably not excelled anywhere in the world, and then Lord Balfour came over and at the Peace Conference succeeded in getting our country to building ships for its protection and worse than that, caused us to scrap a lot of new ships that were under construction. This stopped building submarines for many years and so the Lake plant and many other shipbuilding plants were compelled to close down for lack of business.


Now, during all these strenuously active years Mr. Lake had always been anxious to get back into the salvage business, from which he was called to provide a defensive means for his country in the shape of submarines for defensive purposes and they have proven their great value for that purpose and every important country now relies upon them for defending their coastline.

Mr. Lake has never failed where ever opportunity offered, to conduct further research work and to make further experiments to determine the best means to recover the vast wealth that lies on the bottom of the sea, and is now devoting most of his time to that phase of submarine work. He has recently declined offers to again go abroad in connection with Military submarines and says he hopes to spend the balance of his life in trying to provide the mechanism for recovering the wealth that wars, fog, and storm have sent to the bottom of the sea, as well as to recover nature's products, such as edible food stuffs, pearls, sponges, gold and minerals of all kinds, as well as oils and many other products, all of which he believes may be more economically recovered from under the sea than if they were on land.

Mr. Lake acquired a contract with the Treasury Department to locate and recover the contents of the old British Frigate "HUSSAR"!, sunk in the East River above Hell Gate in 1780, which vessel is reported to have some millions of specie on board. The East River around Hell Gate is one of the worst places in the world to navigate a vessel through, even on the surface, yet Mr. Lake in his submarine "LAKSCO" has successfully traversed the bed of the river and a lady had descended in the submarine and picked up objects from the river bottom in depths of 68 feet while the current was running so strong a diver descending from a surface vessel could not have moved against the current.

Mr. Lake has also made contracts for undertaking the recovery of other valuable treasure, but states that he is relying more on the ability of his apparatus to profitably recover ordinary cargoes, such as coal, iron, copper, tin, cotton, and thousands of imperishable products, as the so called treasure ships probably do not hold over one per cent of the value of the more prosaic commodities of commerce to be found in other ships.

Mr. Lake's later design was intended for deep sea work and will operate on the same principles as have proven successful in the "LAKSCO" but will be built for operation in depths of 250 feet and capable of being easily extended to operate in greater depths if desired. The submarine was the "EXPLORER", a small commercial submarine built in 1933 and is now on display at the Milford Harbor Marina in Milford Connecticut. The "baby Sub" as it was often referred to, was also equipped with wheels for bottom navigation, and included hydraulic "arms" that could manipulate objects outside the craft.


Mr. Lake is the pioneer inventor of welded ships, patented in 1911, which system is now being extensively used. He is also the pioneer inventor of Subaqueous Tunnels, patented in 1903. He designed a tunnel for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1903 and his plans were recommended for adoption by the War Department. Mr. Jacobs, the Chief Engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad sent for Mr. Lake to come to New York and discuss the project, but Mr. Lake's passage had been engaged to go to Russia with the Protector. He was not able to give the time to the tunnel project and when he returned seven years later, the builder of the tunnel, Mr. John E O'Rourke gave Mr. Lake a dinner at the

Machinery Club and told Mr. Lake that he felt he owed him a dinner, as if he had not gone to Russia, he world surely have had the job of building the tunnel.

While in London Mr. Lake designed a tunnel for under the English Channel which was approved by Sir Christopher Furness, Sir Charles McLaren, Sir Henry Normak, Lord Palmer and others, and for a time it looked as if the tunnel would be built, but many French and English people opposed it for fear it might permit either one or the other countries to gain control over it and use it in case of war.



Mr. Lake is also the pioneer inventor of building hollow, insulated fire proof floors, walls, partitions and roofs made of reinforced concrete, which can be built cheaper than good wooden or brick houses and are much cheaper to manufacture. He has recently at the request of the U.S. Government given them a license to build three thousand houses of this type of construction. He has built a number of these houses which have been approved by many well known Architects and Builders and have been accepted by the Building Departments of New York for construction in these cities. It is believed that houses of this type will last for centuries.


Mr. Lake has also written many technical papers on the construction and operation of submarines, which have been read before various technical societies and published in various Technical Journals and Magazines. He has also lectured before various Technical Societies and Universities, such as Society of Naval Architects and Engineers of London, England - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, West Point Military Academy, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y. and many lesser known institutions.

He is the author of "Submarines in War and Peace" published by J.. B. Lippincott & Co. of Philadelphia, which gives avery comprehensive history of the development of the Submarine. The book was published during World War I after being reviewed by Mr. Josephus Daniels, then Secretary of the Navy.

He has been asked by two important publishing houses to write an autobiography, but told them he was not ready for that yet, as he believed his most interesting work is yet to be done. He has been a hard worker all his life. He has a well equipped laboratory at Milford, Connecticut and still averages about 14 hours a day in what some people call work, but he is so much interested in what he is doing, he does not consider it work at all. He states he retired once and tried to become interested in travel and in golf, but the more he traveled the more ideas he got as to improvements that could still be made for the betterment of mankind. He finally consented to an oral autobiography as told to a Mr. Herbert Corey, and the book, SUBMARINE was published by Appleton-Century in 1838. He believes that inventions are the principal things that have brought man above the beasts. He says that had it not been for the inventive ability of man, we would still be naked and living in caves or tree tops eating raw meat and uncooked vegetables.

Mr. Lake was a member of the Institute of Naval Architects of London; a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and of the Society of Mechanical Engineers, both of New York; a member of the Society of Naval Engineers of Washington, D.C. and a former member of the Schiffbau Technical Gesellscheff of Germany.

His clubs were the Engineers and Adventurers of New York and the Algonquin of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

His Fraternal affiliations are the Masons and Knights of Pythias.

He was President of the Lake Submarine Salvage Corporation - The Industrial Submarine Corporation - The Lake Engineering Co. - The Connecticut Lakeolith Corporation and Vice-President and consulting engineer of the Lake Torpedo Boat Company.

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