Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 16, 1915

Before the First World War, Simon Lake designed and built some innovative submarines for the U.S. Navy—and also for the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Imperial German navies. A few months after the outbreak of the war, he seems rather smugly pleased by the success of the submarine as a weapon system:

“The impotency of the great combined English and French fleets of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines must be galling to the people who have paid for them by the sweat of their brows.”

The Simon Lake design for the ultimate sneaky submarine: crawling around on the seafloor and nudging mines out of the way. Image: Scientific American, January 16, 1915

For our January 16, 1915, issue he dusted off some old plans for the ultimate sneaky sub and wrote an article titled “Submarines That Are Strictly Invisible”:

“The principal means used in my mine-evading submarine are the bottom wheels and diving compartment, which were incorporated in my 1893 design, which also carried my pioneer features of lateral hydroplanes to get even keel submergence; high, watertight superstructure, which is indispensable for high-speed, ocean-going submarines; anchors, and lifting and lowering sighting instruments [periscopes] .... These mine-evading craft are able to enter the enemy's own territory with impunity and destroy his merchant ships and warships in their own harbors.”

Lake contributed some great innovations to submarine technology, but this isn't one of them. In reality it would be a bad idea to have a vessel blundering about at the bottom of a murky harbor littered with ship parts, cables and other detritus, perhaps only a few feet from an occasionally alert guard who might notice strangely bobbing mines and a 170-ton submarine with a headlight just below the surface.

Our full archive of the war, called Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, has many articles from 1914–1918 on the technology of submarines and on naval warfare. It is available for purchase at www.ScientificAmerican.com/wwi