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Argonaut Jr. 2010
Recreating Simon Lake's 1894 wooden submarine.

Back from the lake and all dressed up to celebrate! 




Page 2

More Videos are Here: Dive Log

Simon Lake in Argonaut Jr.
Simon Lake in Argonaut Jr. at
Sandy Hook Bay, NJ, 1894

The Argonaut Jr. 2010 project is about building a unique piece of history that brings together people with a variety of skills and interests. Backyard engineers, teachers, artists, designers, historians, modelers, builders, submariners, adventures, and students of all ages.



Chuck Veit's draft rendering of
Argonaut Jr.

Argonaut I

Simon Lake 1866 - 1945

Jules Vern's Captain Nemo from
"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"

What is Argonaut Jr.?

The Argonaut Jr. was Simon Lake's 1894 proof of concept for the Argonaut I submarine.  He decided to build Argonaut Jr. after having been tuned down by every New York City investor he approached.

"I do not remember that I worried at all about the monetary obstacles in my way. I was too set on doing what I wanted to do. At Atlantic Highlands, I drew the plans for the boat I had determined to call the Argonaut Junior." --Simon Lake

Play: Part 1  Part 2    Full Length Download
Teacher's Guide        Student Activity 


Argonaut Jr., was a 14 ft long dry ambient submarine. It was constructed from pine wood planks that sandwiched canvas and tar.  It had wheels for rolling across the bottom which were powered by hand. There was also a diver's hatch in the bottom of the sub which could be opened while submerged.



Who Was Simon Lake?

"I began life as a bad boy. Nowadays social workers would probably call me a problem child. I was a redheaded little Ishmaelite who hated every one and was hated in return. I was continually in trouble which I originated, conducted personally, and usually paid for by stripes and solitary confinement on stools and in closets. I do not remember ever having been at all sorry for the devilish things I did. Nor do I recall that I ever surrendered to superior force. My young head was often metaphorically bloody, but it was not bowed."
  --Simon Lake

What would Simon Do?

So if Simon Lake were alive today, how would he build Argonaut Jr.? He would have spent long days and nights researching what others had done before him online and an in discussion forums.  In his own time he may have talked to people who knew about the "Alligator", a top secret submarine built by the North during the Civil War.  No doubt he would use Computer Aided Design (CAD) to draw up plans, and add some electronics, video cameras, and an underwater remotely controlled ROV and put up a web site so potential investors could see his work. And that is what the Argonaut Jr. 2010 project is all about.  Doing it in the way Simon would do it today.  But our goal is to educated and inspire so we're keeping no secrets.

Remember, Argonaut Jr. 2010 is not a replica of Simon's Argonaut Jr. but the answer to a hypothetical question. Building a working replica would require much more time, money, and skill. However, Argonaut Jr. 2010 will lay the ground work for building a working replica using modern materials.

What Drove Simon Lake?

Perhaps he saw himself as Captain Nemo. "Jules Verne was in a sense the director-general of my life. When I was not more than ten or eleven years old I read his Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and my young imagination was fired. This generation may have forgotten that Verne was a great scientist as well as the writer of the most romantic fiction of his day. I began to dream of making voyages under the waters, and of the vast stores of treasure and the superb adventures that awaited subaqueous
pioneers."  --Simon Lake

Dry Ambient and 1 ATM (Atmosphere)

"It is a school-boy experiment to up-end a glass in a bucket of water and demonstrate that the compressed air will only permit the water to enter to a certain height." --Simon Lake

The Argonaut Jr. was unique in that it could change from a 1 ATM submarine to a dry ambient submarine. The Argonaut Jr. dove from the surface as a 1 ATM and then Simon released air from tanks to pressurize the air inside the submarine until it matched the ambient water pressure outside the submarine. And once the air pressure inside the Argonaut Jr. matched the water pressure outside, it was a dry ambient.  Then the bottom hatch could be opened without the water flooding in. Instead, the water just lapped at the hatch frame.  Today's large submarines with dive chambers perform the same task but only the dive chamber is pressurized, not the entire submarine.

Simon Lake in Argonaut Jr.
1894 Newspaper photo.

Good resolution photo of the hull
as it sat rotting on the beach.

Rare photo of the top view
of Argonaut Jr. showing it's
double ender hull design.

Argonaut Jr.'s Hull

Most of what we know about the Argonaut Jr. come from chapters 6 and 7 of Submarine - The Autobiography of Simon Lake and three photographs: One taken on Sandy Hook Bay, in Atlantic Highlands, NJ where Simon demonstrated the Argonaut Jr. and two more higher resolution photos taken as the Argonaut Jr. rotted away most likely on the same location. Apparently abandoning a boat on a public beach was not a problem in 1894.

Details of the Argonaut Jr.'s divers hatch, ballast tanks size and location, and other internal parts are subtly exposed by the locations of pipes, holes, and viewport locations.  In addition we are able to reverse engineer the Argonaut Jr. with the knowledge of the amount of ballast weighs and water ballast required to make a boat her size operate as a submarine.  Our Argonaut Jr. 2010 project group is fortunate to have submersible designers, historians, photographers and researchers that can piece together this information into a boat that Simon Lake would not only recognize but would immediate know how to operate.  I am certain that he would also be very  impressed with the plywood and epoxy and electronics we plan to utilize on Argonaut Jr. 2010.

You can see more in depth look at the details on the Building Argonaut Jr. page.

Other Details Of Record

The Argonaut Jr. was about 14 ft long, 4 1/2 ft beam, 5 ft keel to deck, and displaced 7 tons. Canvas was sandwiched between layers of thin yellow pine and painted over with coal tar. The air tanks were 100 psi drug store soda fountain tanks,  pressurized with a plumbers hand pump. A bucket was made into a dive helmet, with a ship's portal for face place. A dive suit was of painted canvas and window sash weights for ballast. It was paddled on the surface.  Then, sank on a level keel. Powered by wheels on the bottom.  No lights. Transitioned  from 1 ATM to ambient prior to opening the bottom hatch. Claimed a 5 mi range on the bottom. Source: Argonaut: The Submarine Legacy of Simon Lake. While "A propeller was operated with a man-powered crank,..." is recovered in Submarine, The Autobiography of Simon Lake. No prop is shown in any of the photos, but it will be practical and fun to have.


The Year Was 1894

"Cuba was struggling to free herself from the rule of Spain, the European governments were in their accustomed state of irritation, Russia and Japan were beginning to make faces at each other, the Wall Street market was uncertain, and men who had money were putting in their whole time watching it."  --Simon Lake

The Spanish–American War was 4 years away and Coca Cola just started being bottled.

Simon Lake had failed to convince the money lenders in New York City that his submarine would work and he was broke.  Undaunted, he moved to Atlantic Highlands, borrowed money from his aunt and got his cousin Bart Champion to help. After a successful test in the the Shrewsbury River they move out to Sandy Hook Bay and gave public demonstrations.

Simon Lake - The Student

I had, quite literally, no friends at school in the first few years, nor did I try to make any. My teachers saw in me only a little red-headed devil who had a part in every disturbance. If I was not fighting I was setting others on to fight or planning some impish violation of the established order. They were of the old school, too that was sixty-four years ago and heavy-handed. I might tell the story of one day as I remember it, not because it was exceptional although it was but because it illustrates the pedagogic method in use in Pleasantville. I had done something I should not have done. I do not recall what it was, but I was distinctly at fault.

"Simon," ordered Teacher Rogers, "stand at your desk."

I liked that. It gave me a chance to show off. Whenever Rogers took his eyes off me for a second I made a face or twisted my body or popped a paper wad at one of the other pupils. Rogers could not catch me, but he knew what was going on.

"Go up forward," he ordered, "and stand on my desk."

I changed my tactics. Wearing a face as angelically innocent as possible under my handicap of freckles, I moved my feet a fraction of an inch at a time, until I managed to knock over the teacher's big bottle of ink, from which he filled the bottles on our desks. Rogers slapped me hard, from behind, and although I had known precisely what was going to happen I could not have seen those tense faces and popped eyes on the floor below me without knowing I pretended to be startled and kicked out and hit him hard, in a tender place. Then he lost his temper.

"You little-!"

I do not know what it was he growled under his breath. But he took a scarf from one of the girls, tied it under my arms, and hung me up, crucifixion fashion, to a huge nail from which the map of the United States had been hanging for the geography class. The school watched me, horrified. Teacher Rogers turned his back to walk to his desk. I made a circular swing with one stoutly shod foot and kicked out the window. Rogers snatched me from the wall, white-faced with anger.

"I'll fix you!" he said.

He locked me in the dark closet under the stairs, where the janitor kept the brooms, buckets, and other paraphernalia of his office and Rogers hung his hat and coat during school hours. I was hardly in it before I was out again, for I found out how to turn the key in the big, old-fashioned lock. Opening the door admitted light to the closet and I made some discoveries. There was a pot of lampblack, for one thing, and with it I blacked the banisters down which the children used to slide at recess. The amount of harm this did to their clothes later proved to be almost incalculable. Rogers' dinner pail was on the closet shelf, and as a matter of course I ate his dinner. Then I closed the closet door upon myself and waited upon events. The lunch hour was almost over before Rogers came to me.

"You won't have time now to go home for your lunch," he said. "Here's a nickel. Go over to the store and get yourself something to eat."

I was no longer hungry, but I used that nickel to the best possible advantage. At the store I bought a handful of the red-pepper drops once so popular with practical jokers. The pepper effect does not begin until the candy has been almost completely melted away and it can only be ended through the merciful processes of time. I stood at the gate as the girls returned from their homes at the end of the lunch hour, and gave each a mouthful of these demoniac confections. They were all crying bitterly when the bell sounded and I went into school.

"Lake, stand up" said Rogers.
"Yes, Mr. Puttyhead."

We called Rogers "Puttyhead" in our innocent childish way, but no one had ever addressed him in that fashion to his face. To this day I do not know whether it was a deliberate or an unintentional offense. At any rate he carried on as best he could for the remainder of the day. Then he took me by the tip of my left ear and led me to my step-grandmother's home, a mile and a half away. He was a tall man, and he lifted me until I scuttled along on tiptoe for the entire distance. My ear still shows the result of that frog's march, for the cartilage was partially dislocated. Rogers did not say anything to me about the dinner I had stolen from him. Nor, looking backward again, have I any hard feelings. Times and methods were ruder than they are today. From the point of view of Pleasantville in 1874 or thereabouts I deserved all I got.

--Simon Lake