100-Year-Old Experimental Submarine Built By "Eccentric Millionaire” Found Near Long Island

The 28-meter long vessel was a minor celebrity back in the early 1900s.


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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Black and white photograph of the Defender submarine with a sailor standing on

The Defender submarine back in its heyday. Image credit: Public Domain

The wreck of a strange “experimental submarine” built over 100 years ago has been discovered on the murky seabed of Long Island Sound. While rumors of the location of the mysterious sub – said to be inspired by Jules Verne’s classic 1872 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – have been floating around for some time, it's final resting place has been revealed.

Discovered by Connecticut divers from Shoreline Diving Services, the 28-meter (92-foot) long vessel was built by “eccentric millionaire” and inventor Simon Lake and was quite the celebrity in its heyday in the early 1900s.


Lake was passionate about submarines. Over the course of his life, the obsessional engineer filed over 200 patents for submarine design and became known as “the father of the modern submarine.”

He built the Defender for the US Navy in 1907, but the contract was swiped at the last minute by a competitor. To give it a new lease on life, he refitted the vessel for underwater rescue missions, but it never received a buyer. 

Diver Steve Abbate inspects one of submarine Defender’s propellers underwater.

There she is! Diver Steve Abbate inspects one of Defender’s propellers. Image courtesy of Joe Mazraani

However, it picked up some fanfare during its younger years and was even visited by the aviator Amelia Earhart in 1929. By 1946 its best days were behind it and the Defender was scuttled by the Army Corp of Engineers in the waters of Long Island Sound.

Richard Simon, vice president of Shoreline Diving Services, had long been fascinated by the work of Lake and the story of the Defender, so set out on a mission to discover its long-lost wreck. 


“Stories about Lake and his inventions fascinated me,” he said in a statement sent to IFLScience. “The secret to identifying this historical relic was to connect the available research to the stories. You could say Defender was hiding in plain sight all this time in a waterway I’ve traveled for years.”

Murky underwater image of the submarine Defender shipwreck.

It's a bit murky, but the team are certain it's the wreck of the Defender. Image courtesy of Joe Mazraani

Two surveys of the area, one by the NOAA and another by Eastern Search & Survey, detected the presence of an unidentified wreck in the Long Island Sound. After Simon noted that the size and location of the object appeared to be consistent with the Defender, he launched an effort to confirm his suspicions. 

On April 16, 2023. Simon oversaw deck operations while divers Steve Abbate and Joe Mazraani swam down to the wreckage. Just as they hoped, they found an intact submarine.

“It is such a thrill to finally put our hands on this important piece of maritime history,” said Abbate.


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  • Long Island