Melvin Tampke, from San Antonio Texas, was frequently featured in Alan Calvert’s Strength Magazine. Here he does a one arm clean and jerk with an excellent Thick Handled globe barbell. Tampke made it into Ripley’s Believe it or Not by doing 200 straight pushups. It was also reported that he drove a no. 20 nail through three 1-inch yellow pine boards and two pieces of no. 15 gauge iron all stacked one upon the other with one blow of his fist!
There has been a long tradition of Canadian Strongmen, one that you probably haven’t heard of is Gaston Heon of Quebec. Heon performed standard feats such as phone book tearing, the human link and having a large rock broken on his chest with a sledge hammer… but he also performed several unusual — and somewhat dangerous — feats, such as allowing himself to be run over by a car traveling 40 miles per hour(!) and this backlift/support of a 3000 pound automobile.
It doesn’t get any more “Old School” than De Arte Gymnastica by Hieronimus Mercurialis. Published in 1569, this is the oldest book ever written on physical training. It describes exercises as practiced by the classical Greeks and Romans: the value of walking, throwing the discus, climbing ropes, training with heavy balls (i.e. Medicine Balls) and, as seen in the wood cut above, dumbbells and heavy stone tablets called “plummets” — history’s first odd object lifting!
Louis Sciorato, billed at “The Italian Giant” was a fixture on the west coast vaudeville circuits in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Sciorato bent and scrolled steel and performed the human link feat between two airplanes. He had a standing offer of $1000 (about $15,000 in today’s money adjusted for inflation) for anyone who could duplicate his feats and even had a blacksmith on call just to verify everything was on the level.
The first ever AAU Mr. America was Bert Goodrich, shown here on an early cover of Iron Man Magazine. Bert got his start by training with Earle E. Liederman’s courses and was a tremendous athlete in high school, excelling in hand balancing, swimming, and track and field events. He went on to became a stuntman in several Hollywood Movies and later opened up his own gym.
Check out this great H.W. Titus advertisement circa 1909. Titus name drops pretty much every great strongman of the day as well as President William Howard Taft. Who knows if any of these gents actually used it, but the fact remains that the Titus course is excellent.
Otis Lambert, was a staple on the Vaudeville circuit for years. He achieved his greatest fame while partnered with Adolph Nordquest. One of Lambert’s greatest feats was to perform a Get-Up Lift while holding Nordquest aloft, plus a 25-pound dumbbell – a total weight of 220 pounds.
An old poster of the strongman Clevio Massimo during the time he appeared on the stage throughout the country, depicting some of the feats of strength he included in his act: harness lifting, the One Arm get Up, Kettlebell Crucifix, card ripping, hand balancing etc. He included quite a variety; many not illustrated here, and his ability as a showman only enhanced his fine performances. Massimo also played the violin in one portion of his act to prove he was a capable musician as well as a genuine strongman.
Carl Busch was a great strongman and wrestler who was active in the early 20th century. After winning the 1901 German national title, he toured Europe performing feats of strength and wrestling all comers. He even wrestled the great Frank Gotch to a draw under Greco-Roman rules. Busch also wrestled the likes of George Hackenschmidt, Professor Roller, Heinrich Weber, Yousef Holusane, Fred Beell, and even Farmer Burns. As far as feats of strength, Busch could bent press 250 pounds at a bodyweight of only 175 pounds. In 1891, Busch started his own circus which is actually still going strong today if you can believe it.