Iron Men, Part II

Back before there was such a thing as a bench press, men proved their mettle lifting stones, breaking chains and holding back horses

Iron Men, Part II

By Shawn Perine

First read "Iron Men Part I."

EUGEN SANDOW (1867-1925)
Considered by many to be the great-grandfather of bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow was his day's equivalent of David Beckham—an athletic superstar nonpareil.

Born Friederich Wilhelm Mueller on April 2, 1867 in Prussia, Sandow left home to join the circus as a teen and, thanks to his athletic prowess, took to acrobatics easily. In 1887, noticing his innate abilities, strongman Louis Durlacher (stage name "Attila") took the young man under his wing and dubbed him Eugen Sandow.

Soon Sandow would wow audiences with his own feats of strength, including carrying a pony overhead with one arm. However, unlike most of his contemporaries, Sandow didn't get fat, instead developing a physique good enough to place in amateur bodybuilding competitions today, a century hence.

With the help of legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Sandow began displaying his physique in exhibitions around the U.S. and Europe. He soon made his "Muscle Displays" the main feature of his stage show. So famous did he become that none other than Thomas Edison filmed Sandow performing a muscle display performance for his new medium, the motion picture camera, on March 6, 1894.

Born three months premature to a Rabbi and his wife, Yosselle Leib (Joseph Lewis) Greenstein was such a tiny baby (his mother fed him through an eyedropper) that he was presumed to not survive more than a few days in the garrison town of Suvalk, Poland.

Not only did Greenstein survive, he would develop into one of the most improbable strongmen in history. Standing just 5'4" and weighing a mere 140 pounds, he emigrated to the United States, specifically the Bronx, NY, where he honed his skills as a carnival strongman.

Greenstein's brand of strength, however, didn't come by way of rigorous exercise and prodigious lift attempts, rather than by mental power. Such was the power of his visualization abilities that he would will himself to things men twice his size couldn't even dream.

Among his amazing feats were: snapping three chains strapped around his chest merely by expanding it; bending nails with his fingers and a ½-inch cold-rolled steel bar with his bare hands; biting a nail in two and doing the same with a quarter; and, most impressively, holding back a plane revving at 1600 rpm (equaling 60 mph), with his hair!

Greenstein performed many of his feats past the age of 80, including a performance before 14,000 specatators at a martial arts exhibition at NY's Madison Square Garden only months before his passing.

The men chronicled above represent just a portion of the many who captivated the world with their strength long before the existence of steroids, or even supplements. Instead, they relied on sheer inner fortitude and a gift from the gods that would immortalize them in the annals of iron sport.