The Making of an Industry
After nearly 400 years under Ottoman rule, the 19th century brought independence for Greece. However, many Greek citizens found themselves unable to cope with the lack of economic prospects in a country that was left war-torn and unable to compete in the quickly industrialized world. Thus, beginning in the early 1900s, immigrants from the Dodecanese Islands (such as Kalymnos, Halki, and Symi) came to Tarpon Springs, Florida with the hopes of establishing better prospects for themselves and their families. The location of Tarpon Springs was ideal, for Florida’s extensive coastline was reminiscent of the vast cerulean expanse of the Aegean Sea. Moreover, its position on the Gulf of Mexico provided for occupational prospects that mirrored those the islanders had in their birthplaces, such as sponge diving and fishing. Thus, although the origin of the sponge industry was credited to John Cheyney, by 1905 the sponge-diving industry in Tarpon Springs was firmly established, with over 500 Greek sponge divers working in nearly 50 boats. However, the Greek immigrants did not just leave their mark on the sponging industry alone: Tarpon Springs would come to boast one of the largest Greek communities in the United States.