To provide additional proof that one can be impressive without being "huge" here is the famous Brooklyn strongman Abe Boshes. Boshes stood 5'3" at a bodyweight of around 150 pounds and was very well-known for his shoulder development (which was obviously a big contributor to his stature.) Boshes did quite a bit of training with chest expanders.
Boshes could bent-press around 220 lbs for a single and a 100 lb. dumbbell 18 times in succession. In the early 1900's, he won a contest put on by Bernarr MacFadden and the fame from doing so allowed him to travel the country on the Vaudeville circuit. Like many strongmen of the time he also did some wrestling.
Joe Lambert, a strongman from Boston, ran off to join Louis Cyr's circus when he was 16 years old. He traveled the country and the world performing feats of strength first with Cyr's circus, and later with Barnum & Bailey's, The Ringling Brothers, the Vaudeville circuit and even in South America with the Pablione Circus. He was good friends with Clevio Massimo and Adolph Nordquest.
New Jersey born Henry Wittenberg was one of the greatest wrestlers who ever lived. Unbelievably, he never even wrestled until he got to college but by his junior year, he was doing very well in many prestigious tournaments.
After college, he entered eight AAU tournaments - and won all of them. In an era where many people inflate their numbers, Wittenberg legitimately won over 300 straight matches. He won a Gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics and came back to win Silver in 1952 at Helsinki. He doesn't have any World Championships to his credit because his employer, The New York Police Department, would not allow him the time off.
One of the notable things about Wittenberg is that he was one of the few athletes at the time who actively lifted weights. His coaches at the time forbade him to do so, but Wittenberg understood how important it was and would not hear of it. They gave in and allowed him to keep lifting weights so as long as he didn't let it be known.
Later on, he wrote this book on Isometrics which has gone through five printings.
"... We learn that Mr. Harrison first began to use the clubs three years ago, at which time his muscular development was not regarded as being very great, his measurements being: round the chest 37-1/2 inches, round the upper arm 13-7-8ths inches, and round the forearm 13-1/4 inches.
The clubs with which Mr. Harrison commenced weighed about seven pounds each; he has advanced progressively until he can now wield with perfect ease two clubs. each weighing 37 pounds, and his heaviest weighing 47 pounds. The effects of this exercise on the wielder's measurements are as follows: round the chest 42-1/2 inches, the upper arm 15 inches, and the forearm 14 inches.
At the same time, his shoulders have increased immensely, and the muscles of his mid-section which were weak when he first used the clubs, are now well-developed and powerful. In short, all the muscles of the trunk have been improved by this exercise."
Professor James Harrison
Featured in The Illustrated London News August 14th, 1852
Professor Harrison of London was a well-known gymnastics and physical culture teacher who was honored by Queen Victoria for his physical prowess. It was watching Professor Harrison expertly swing his heavy "war clubs" which inspired Sim Kehoe to bring club swinging back to America and promote it on a wide scale.
John Garan began serious physical training after meeting the famous New York strongman Abe Boshes and went on to build one of the most incredible physique of all time. At a height of 5'5" and bodyweight of only 155 pounds Garan could easily squat with over 300 and was also an excellent wrestler. He regularly trained at Sig Klein's Gym and was featured in "Klein's Bell." Garan is a perfect example of very impressive results, developed without supplements or growth drugs.
You know a guy is really strong when he can lift heavy dumbbells in the basic lifts. Here's the great Doug Hepburn pressing a pair of 160 (!) pound dumbbells (which were handed to him at the shoulders) at Ed Yarick's Big Show.
Having to clean the dumbbells first is an altogether different lift although While training at Yarick's Gym, Doug had previously strictly cleaned and pressed a pair of 142 pound dumbbells.
Unsurprisingly, Doug also set a new world record in the press that year with a 366-1/4 pound lift.
How about this handbalancing feat from the Russian circus, circa 1967? I'd say the neck strength of the two "bottom" men may be even more impressive.
Tullio Camillotti was an early Italian, weightlifter, strongman and wrestler who won Italy's first Olympic medal in weightlifting. At the 1906 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Camillotti took home the Silver medal in the "One-Hand Lifting" contest. (Heinrich Schneidereit won Bronze while Josef Grafl won Gold.)
"It would be very beneficial for any competitive athlete to obtain an anvil... Lifting it in various positions will greatly add to one's upper and lower body strength."
-- Dr. Ken Leistner, THE STEEL TIP, Vol 1, No 12, December 1985