Known as “The Fearless Frogman” long before the term became synonymous with rubber-clad divers, Boynton was an inventor, adventurer and showman who was far ahead of his time when it came to water sports.
Boynton, who was by various accounts born in Ireland or Pennsylvania, served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, then tried his hand as a soldier of fortune, diamond miner and as a lifeguard in Atlantic City before finding his true calling, popularizing a body-tight rubber suit, complete with inflatable air pouches, that allowed him to survive in icy cold waters for long periods of time.
In an effort to popularize the suit, which he apparently invented, Boynton embarked on a worldwide publicity tour, 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.
After demonstrating the suit in an ocean swim in Ireland, Boynton returned to the United States and floated the Mississippi from Alton, Ill., to St. Louis, drawing crowds to the river’s banks to watch him bob past.
Boynton later floated many rivers, including the Danube, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Seine, the Po, the Loire, the Tiber, the Targus and, in the United States, the Missouri, the Yellowstone, the Ohio and the Hudson. He also floated and paddled the English Channel, using a sail to help him make the crossing. His longest water journey, chronicled in his autobiography “Rouging It In Rubber,” was a float of more than 3,580 miles from Cedar Creek in Montana to St. Louis, a distance that took him 64 days to cover.
When his days as a human cork ended, Boynton found new outlets for his entrepreneurial spirit, building Paul Boyton's Water Chutes park in Chicago, opening a New York saloon called "The Ship" on Broadway, and helping found the Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island.
He died at his Long Island home on April 18, 1924.