The best guess anyone has put forth on the origin of the Fool Killer Submarine is that it was built by Lodner Phillips around 1849 – and had presumably been in the water ever since when it was dredged up from the Chicago river in 1915 for display on South State street.
Most of the evidence connecting it to Phillips has come from Phillips’ family lore, but, as we concluded in our book (which features the most complete article ever written about the sub), it’s still the only theory that makes any sense.
This picture may be the best proof of all:
This drawing, by one Col. Fields, shows a Phillips sub – Phillips went on to build several other models with various degrees of success. This one – which had guns attached – would have been a later model, but it does look a LOT like the Foolkiller:
Of course, all subs do look pretty much alike, at least in theory – but this was the 1840s. Submarines didn’t really exist yet, and the models that were built varied widely in appearance. These two could practically be doubles, except for the guns. While I don’t think it’s the kind of evidence that would hold up in court, this is pretty good evidence that the sub was a Phillips creation, wheras the stories published in the papers at the time (namely, that it was from 1870 and had been raised and sunk again around 1890) haven’t had a shred to back them up come to light.