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When we think of strongmen today, we usually think of pro-athletes or that guy from Iceland who won a bunch of world strongest man competitions. But how strong are we today when compared with other generations?
In the 19th century, strongmen were the pro-athletes. They traveled the world, performing in circuses, lifting incredibly heavy things, bending iron bars, hammering nails into wood with their bare hands and wrestling bears, all while sporting classic handlebar mustaches. They didn’t have the latest in medicine or sport training science, equipment or facilities. They also didn’t have access to the plethora of legal and illegal performance enhancing supplements that are available today. They were just strong, ridiculously strong. So here’s our shortlist of the top five strongmen from the classic 19th century era.
Also known as Black Angus or the Giant MacAskill, Angus was born in Scotland in 1825. He truly was a giant, reaching 7ft 9in and weighing in at over 500lbs. From early on, MacAskill worked as a fisherman where his impressive size and strength came in handy. His feats of strength included lifting ship anchors weighing 2,800lbs and carrying 350lb barrels under each arm. He eventually joined the P.T. Barnum circus and toured with General Tom Thumb. He is recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the worlds tallest “natural” giant as well as having the largest chest of any non-obese man (80in).
Born in France in 1862, Uni was better known as Apollon the Mighty. He made his name as a Greco-Roman wrestler and strongman performer in Bordeaux. Renowned for the size of his forearms and wrists, some of his feats of strength included pinch-lifting 160lbs and hoisting a pair of 366lb train-car wheels with an enormously thick axle overhead. In 1913 while attempting to hold back two cars with his bare hands he suffered a career ending arm injury.
Born in Canada in 1863, Louis worked in a lumber yard as a youth where he showed off his awesome strength, even at a young age. Imitating Milo of Croton, who carried everywhere he went a calf to full grown bull, Cyr attempted the same, but had to settle for a sack of grain when the calf kicked too much and bolted. He did however, lift a fully grown horse in his first strongman contest. He also set the record for the one-handed bench press with a lift of 273lbs, breaking Eugen Sandows record by 2lbs. He also famously lifted a platform on his back containing 18 men weighing in at 4,337lbs. Cyr has been called the strongest man to have ever lived.
Born Friedrich Muller in Prussia in 1867, Sandow is often referred to as the father of modern-day bodybuilding. After fleeing his homeland to avoid military service, he traveled Europe performing as a circus strongman. He found fame in England where he was admired more for his bulging muscles than his feats of strength. In 1901, he held the Great Competition, recognized as the first ever recorded bodybuilding contest. Sandow also opened gymnasiums, designed strength training equipment and wrote books on exercise and diet. Some of his lifting feats included a 312lb one-arm dumbbell clean and a 1,500lb one-handed stone lift. He is immortalized as a bronze statue simply called “The Sandow,” which is presented to the winner of Mr. Olympia each year.
Nicknamed the “Russian Lion,” Hackenschmidt was born in Russian in 1877. In school, he was a supreme athlete and excelled at many sports including wrestling and weightlifting. After school and a short stint as a blacksmith, he became a professional wrestler. He wrestled throughout Europe and became the first recognized heavyweight wrestling champion. He was known to often wrestle five different oppenents in a night -of course defeating them all. In his career, it is estimated that he competed in about 3,000 professional wrestling matches and lost only twice. He is also credited with inventing the famous bear hug move. Along with wrestling Hackenschmidt was also an accomplished weightlifter, recognized for polarizing the hack squat and bench press.