Zac McDorrWhen gold was discovered in California in 1848, thousands of men thought they found the answer to easy riches. All they had to do was head west and do a little digging.

Ironically, many of those men sailed around Cape Horn to get to California, passing right over the biggest gold repository in the world. Twenty million tons of gold particles are dissolved in the world’s oceans. The question is, how do you extract it? The answer came to Rev. Prescott Jernegan in 1896, who received the technology in a heavenly vision.

Jernegan’s invention was a wooden box, containing a pan full of mercury and a secret ingredient. The box was lowered into the sea, and a current was passed through the mercury, attracting gold particles.

Jernegan approached a jeweler named Arthur Ryan and offered to make him a partner in the new venture. When Ryan tested the device off a pier in New Jersey, it accumulated $4.50 worth of gold ($100 in today’s money.)

The Electrolytic Marine Salts Company was formed, and many of Jernegan’s devices were placed in Lubec, Maine, chosen for the secluded location and high tides. Soon, accumulators were generating $140 in gold each day.

Stock in the company was offered, and quickly shot to $150 per share. Jernegan and his assistant, Charles Fisher, cashed out for $400,000.

Then Jernegan and Fisher disappeared. At the same time, the gold accumulators stopped working. It turned out that Fisher was a trained diver who had gone underwater and placed gold in the devices. Later, they simply bought gold bars and told investors the gold had come from the accumulators.

The two scammers were never caught, though Jernegan later decided to return $75,000 of the money he took from the investors. Rumor had it that he wound up in the Philippines, working as a school teacher.


Zac McDorr is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. He recently moved home after living in Oklahoma City for many years.