Simon Lake

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Jim Stapleton

Simon Lake was a prolific inventor who helped usher in a new age in submarine design. He was born on September 4, 1866, in Pleasantville, NJ. Lake began his Masonic career when he was made a Mason in Monmouth Lodge No. 172 in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He eventually affiliated with Ansantawae Lodge No. 89 in Milford, CT, later in life. 

People long imagined underwater travel, and numerous attempts were made to build undersea craft. These efforts varied in shape, construction materials, and means of propulsion. Some were intended for exploration, while others were meant exclusively for warfare. However, these early vessels didn’t include many of the elements that we think of as essential in modern submarines, such as airlocks, periscopes, double hulls, and even-keel descent. It wasn’t until Simon Lake began designing submarines that these features were developed.

Lake dreamt of traveling deep in the ocean and was inspired by Jules Verne’s book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He took great joy in sailing the waters around New Jersey and Pennsylvania during his youth. He grew up surrounded by family members who were inventors and engineers. From a young age, Lake liked to tinker with mechanical devices and often took machines apart and put them back together again. It was the combination of his mechanical abilities and a strong yearning for underwater travel that fed the drive to develop his innovations.

In 1894, Lake built the Argonaut Junior to test his concepts. The Argonaut Junior was about 14 feet long and made of wood. After proving some of his ideas, he constructed the larger Argonaut I. In 1898, the Argonaut I sailed from Norfolk, VA, to New York City under its own power. This marked the first time an undersea craft traveled such a distance in the open sea. Lake was very proud that he received a cable with a congratulatory message from Jules Verne after that voyage.

Lake primarily envisioned his submarines serving in the role of defense and salvage.  He did attempt to sell his submarines to the US Navy. However, the US Navy did not initially make a deal with Lake and instead bought submarines from his chief competitor, John P. Holland. This led Simon Lake to travel to Europe where he sold submarines to countries like Russia, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He eventually returned to the United States when World War I began and entered into a relationship with the US Navy. He continued designing vessels and helped advise the Navy through World War II.


Jim Stapleton is the Senior Warden of USS New Jersey Lodge No. 62. He is also a member of the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. Jim received the Distinguished White Apron Award from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He was awarded the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. Jim is also a member of the Society of King Solomon.

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