Milford native pushes to recognize first submarine inventor

Milford native Leon Prete says it's been a long journey. At low tide at the Port Milford Marina, you can see a rusted, barnacle-encrusted submersible.

Mark Sudol

Jul 7, 2023, 9:37 PM

Updated 283 days ago

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A local man is on a mission to get the man he believes is the inventor of the modern-day submarine finally recognized for his accomplishments.
Milford native Leon Prete says it's been a long journey. At low tide at the Port Milford Marina, you can see a rusted, barnacle-encrusted submersible.
"I think most people don't know what it is," said Charles Viens, of Bridgeport.
The submersible has been there for a century.
"I've read all the stories about it," said Prete.
It belonged to and was designed by Simon Lake.
"That right there is the conning tower, and you can look at it and see the back where people would enter," said Viens.
Experts say this submersible is actually a chamber that was used to explore the ocean floor. It's one of three built at Lake's Torpedo Boat Company in Bridgeport.
Lake competed with John Philip Holland to build the first combustible engine submarines for the U.S. Navy in the late-1800s. The New Jersey native spent much of his life right on the Milford shore.
"He was an incredible inventor, he had over 200 patents and he spent his lifetime developing submarine technology," said Prete.
"Everybody assumes Groton was the birthplace of submarines, but it happened right here in Milford," said Viens.
But after all his hard work, Lake never got the recognition Milford native Leon Prete thinks he deserves.
"They refused his design, the U.S. Navy, and they took the other fellow's design, so he as a businessman like myself, we're going to go look for business elsewhere," said Prete.
Lake submitted some of his drawings to the German Navy years before World War II, and it is believed those plans were later used to create the infamous U-boats.
One of the last submarines Lake built is still on display at Milford Landing Marina. Prete wants to bring Lake's story back to the surface in hopes it may inspire others.
"I just hope I can last long enough at 68 to keep it going. That's my goal. Saying my prayers," said Prete.
Prete says he also hopes someday that another one of Simon Lake's subs that's sitting in the bottom of the water in Old Saybrook will one day be raised and someday will be a Simon Lake museum.
Lake lived in Milford from 1907 until his death in 1945.


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