Florida is the only state in the union where natural sponges are harvested. Tarpon Springs became a center for this commercial activity, attracting sponge divers from the Dodecanese Islands of Kalymnos, Halki, and Symi in Greece. Antonios Lerios, whose father emigrated to Tarpon Springs from Kalymnos in 1905, became a primary equipment supplier for the sponge boats. He created a one-piece diving helmet of spun copper, with redesigned windows, air valve, and breastplate.
Nicholas Toth, Lerios's grandson, decided after he finished college that he should learn helmet making from his grandfather and carry on the family tradition. When Antonios Lerios died at the age of 100 in 1992, Nicholas Toth was the sole inheritor of this specialized tradition. Toth has continued to make innovations on his grandfather's designs. While he continues to receive orders from working divers around the world, his helmets are also appreciated for their remarkable beauty and are sought by collectors and museums. Toth's work was included in the touring exhibition Florida Folklife: Traditional Arts in Contemporary Florida, and his workshop was featured on National Geographic Explorer.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency