Biography of Famous Body Builder Charles Atlas Part 1

About the famous body builder and weight lifter Charles Atlast who marketed the Atlas fitness course, history and biography.

FOOTNOTE PEOPLE IN U.S. HISTORY

CHARLES ATLAS (ANGELO SICILIANO) (1894-1972). "The 97-lb. weakling."

Angelo Siciliano was a fairly husky boy in southern Italy. When he came with his mother to Brooklyn at the age of 11, however, he began to sicken and grow spindly. He lost interest in school and could not climb the steps to the family flat. "I was a 97-lb. runt," he later recalled. "I was skinny, pale, nervous, and weak." One Halloween, he was beaten by a boy wielding a sock full of ashes. Then, at the age of 16, he looked at a statue of Hercules in the Brooklyn Museum and marveled at its muscles.

A week later he joined the YMCA and began to lift dumbbells, pull elastic stretchers, and toss medicine balls. For home use, he built a barbell out of a broomstick and two rocks. He wrote away for the Swoboda Course and investigated Strongfortism. He became obsessed with strength.

One day he watched a tiger stretching in the zoo and asked himself, "How does Mr. Tiger keep in physical condition? Did you ever see a tiger with a barbell?" He concluded that lions and tigers became strong by pitting muscle against muscle. Angelo abandoned his barbells and fell to staging tugs-of-war between hands, legs, fingers, and thighs. By means of such exercises, he doubled his weight and returned the beating to his Halloween tormentor.

He acquired a mighty form: a chest that expanded to 54 3/4 in. and biceps of 17 in. His friends at the gymnasium took notice and declared that he looked just like the statue of Atlas on the corner bank building. The name stuck, and eventually Angelo legally changed his name to Charles Atlas.

As a young man he took a job as strongman in the Coney Island Circus Side Show. He tore telephone books in two, lifted two men off the floor, and lay on a bed of nails eating a banana while three spectators stood on his chest. "Women used to faint when I did that," he said. "They couldn't stand watching a beautiful body like mine being abused."

At the sideshow, he was noticed by an artist who asked him to pose. Soon he became a popular sculptors' model, and parts or all of his image appeared on public buildings around the country. His upper body became a torso on a centaur in the lobby of the Capitol Theater on Broadway. He became George Washington in New York's Washington Square, Alexander Hamilton in front of the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington, the Dawn of Glory in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Patriotism in the Elks National Headquarters in Chicago, and Energy in Repose in the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. He made enough money to quit Coney Island.

In 1922 Bernarr Macfadden, publisher of Physical Culture magazine, selected Atlas as the world's most perfectly developed man. The title and prize money enabled Atlas to set up his own mail-order muscle-building business. Advertisements in comics, pulps, and sports and movie magazines showed Atlas clad in a tightfitting leopard skin, muscles bulging. A 1925 appeal asked, "Do you want to be a tiger?" and opined, "It's the Tiger Men who grab everything they want these days. The new race of Tiger Men win the battles of pelf and power in the mad, dizzy, jazzy marathon for personal success. They whiz by you in stunning big limousines and have fine homes and bulging bank accounts."

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