Nicholas Toth, Tarpon Springs, FL, 1998. Photo: Eric Dusenbery for Historical Museum of Southern Florida
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
Originally submitted by: Bob Graham, Senator.
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.