It has been well written that many so-called “feats of strength” had their roots in manual labor. Back in the beer halls of Bavaria and old, Old, OLD Vienna I’m sure a couple of robust beirmeisters once sat around shooting the breeze when one bet another that he could lift the biggest barrel — and it’s all been down hill from there.
Many of the old timers were well-known for their barrel or keg lifting feats, including Louis Cyr (who was said to have been able to lift a 400 lb. barrel to his shoulders) and George F. Jowett who included a Barrel Lifting Course in his Molding a Mighty Grip training guide. I would imagine the “Cincinnati Strongman” Henry Holtgrewe lifted a few barrels and kegs in his time. He owned a tavern down on 6th street in downtown Cincinnati just after the turn of the century.
Several modern day strongmen have included barrel lifting in their training. Probably the two most well known are Steve Justa and Brooks Kubik who wrote extensively about barrel lifting in Dinosaur Training. Keep in mind that lifting a 200 pound FULL barrel is actually easier than lifting a 150 pound HALF-filled barrel.