Boyton, who may have been born in Ireland or Pennsylvania, served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. He joined the Union Navy during the American Civil War at the age of 15. He was subsequently a soldier of fortune, serving tours of duties with Benito Juárez's Mexican Navy and the French Franc-tireurs during the Franco-Prussian War.
Boyton also helped organize the United States Life-Saving Service, one of the precursors to the modern-day United States Coast Guard. He was later appointed captain of Atlantic City, New Jersey's lifesaving service.
His fame as the Fearless Frogman was due to his popularization of a body-tight rubber suit, complete with inflatable air pouches, that allowed him to survive in icy cold waters for long periods of time.
While in Atlantic City, Boyton began experimenting with a rubber suit invented by C. S. Merriman as a life-saving device for steamship passengers. The suit was essentially a pair of rubber pants and shirt cinched tight at the waist. Within the suit were air pockets the wearer could inflate at will using tubes. Similar to modern-day drysuits, the suit also kept its wearer dry. This essentially allowed the wearer to float on his back, using a double-sided paddle to propel himself, feet-forward.
In an effort to popularize the suit and its uses, Boynton embarked on a publicity tour across America and Europe, in which he would float – usually on his back with his feet pointed downstream and a paddle to speed his progress – down rivers and channels. oyton would tow a small boat behind him in which he carried his supplies and personal possessions, and sometimes invited newspaper reporters to accompany him.
A canny publicist, Boyton's arrival in small river towns along the Danube River in 6 days in 1876, Rhine River (430 miles in 1875), Venice canals, Strait of Gibraltar, [Rhone River]], Seine, Po River, Loire River, Tiber, Targus, Missouri River, Yellowstone River, Ohio River, Hudson River and the Mississippi River (in 1876 from Alton, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri and 100 miles from Bayou Goula to New Orleans in 24 hours). was often heralded by great fanfare. He also floated and paddled 2,342 miles in 80 days from Oil City, Pennsylvania to the Gulf of Mexico in 80 days and across the English Channel in 24 hours in 1875 using a sail to help him make the crossing. His longest water journey, chronicled in the book Rouging It In Rubber, was a float of more than 3,580 miles from Cedar Creek, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri in 1881 that took him 64 days to cover.
Boyton's rubber suit was featured by Jules Verne in Tribulations of a Chinaman in China as a life saver for the hero and his three companions.
Boyton formed an aquatic circus and toured for several years. From 1894 to 1908, he opened the first amusement park (Paul Boyton's Water Chutes) in Chicago, which was also the first park of any type to charge an admission. The following year, he bought 16 acres of land and opened the Sea Lion Park on Coney Island in 1895, fenced the property and charged admission. It would later become Coney Island Amusement Park. Boyton and his sea lions also performed in silent films including Feeding Sea Lions.
The Story of Paul Boyton
The Story of Paul Boyton was originally marketed with this words: "A rare tale of travel and Adventure. Thrilling experiences in distant lands, among strange people. A book for boys, old and young." The description of the book is no exaggeration. The book explains Boyton's exploits and adventures. He discovered and started working with a rubber suit, similar to modern drysuits.
Roughing It In Rubber
Roughing It In Rubber is a paperback book written by Colleen Sullivan about Boyton's traverse from Montana to Missouri. Described as "exciting, and full of humor as the Captain makes his way through the worlds water ways. Deep sea diving, salvaging sunken ships and challenged by sharks. Going on to blowing up Chillian "Men O War."