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Nicholas Toth
Nicholas Toth, Tarpon Springs, FL, 1998. Photo: Eric Dusenbery for Historical Museum of Southern Florida

Diving Helmets

Nick Toth creates aesthetic and highly utilitarian sponge diving helmets in Florida's longtime Greek community in Tarpon Springs. He maintains a family tradition of work in the sponge industry, which has been carried on in this country since his grandfather emigrated from the Greek Dodecanese Island of Kalymnos in 1905.

Florida is the only state in the United States in which natural sponges are harvested. Tarpon Springs and the area from Miami south through the Keys have been significant sponge markets since the 19th century. Toth's grandfather, Antonios Lerios, moved from Kalymnos to Constantinople (now Istanbul), where he learned helmet making and maritime crafts in the great shipyards of that day. In 1913, Lerios, moved again to Tarpon Springs to be with family members who had already immigrated. While in his 80s, Lerios taught his grandson, Nick Toth, the skill of helmet making. Since his grandfather's death, Toth has continued to produce and improve the diving helmets. His helmets are used primarily by divers in Florida and California. The sponge boats in the Biliris fleet out of Tarpon, for example, still use traditional diving equipment, including Toth's helmets. Basic helmets take about 120 hours to make, and start at $5,500.

Documentation includes a legacy report, magazine and newspaper articles.

Originally submitted by: Bob Graham, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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