The idea of a “strongman” has long existed in the world of the circus, carnival, or any kind of traveling entertainment. They wow audiences with their rugged bodies and their feats of incredible strength. As the world of bodybuilding formed a niche in society, women have also been involved in this pursuit of strength and incredible physical achievements. Records have been made around who the strongest people in human history were, and what they were able to accomplish. But who were these people? What were some of the accomplishments which were recorded in the history books? Just how strong can a person really get? Read on to find out more about these men and women people who have spent their life trying to become the strongest in the world.
43. It Started When…
The term “strongman” first developed in the 19th century, but the history of the circus and performance arts had always featured the shows of superhuman strength to entertain audiences. As time has gone on, strength athletics have become more organized, with specific challenges made, such as pulling trains or lifting rocks.
42. Let’s Make This a Show!
World’s Strongest Man is a competition focused entirely on strength athletics. Established in 1977, it was first organized by IMG, the same group behind other famous sporting events. Although it has had several rival competitions over the years, it remains the most recognized competition for strength athletics.
41. I am the Greatest!
For those of you wondering who holds the record for most years winning the title “World’s Strongest Man,” the honor goes to Polish-born Mariusz Pudzianowski. He’s won the title five times, with his first one being in 2002 and his last one being in 2008.
40. Eastern Origins
Strength athletics also developed in Japan for centuries under the famous name sumo. Sumo is associated with the Shinto faith, specifically, a ritual where a human would supposedly wrestle with a divine spirit known as a kami. As a result of the ritual dance, the art of sumo wrestling was regularly performed at the Japanese imperial court.
39. The Art of Sumo
The first professional sumo wrestlers were said to be samurai from the Edo Period who were attempting to use their strength and wrestling skills to earn additional incomes. The sport developed over the centuries and continues to be an important aspect of Japanese culture. No fewer than six Grand Sumo tournaments have been held yearly in Japan since the 1950s. The highest ranking in sumo is called a Yokozuna. As of 2018, there have been only 72 recognized Yokozuna in history.
In the history of World’s Strongest Man, five of its winners have been Americans, three have been Icelanders (more on them later), four have been from the UK, while the rest have come from Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, and Norway.
37. Girls Allowed!
Strongwomen were an exception to the rule when it came to people in circuses demonstrating strength. This gave the idea of a strongwoman a more unique appeal to audiences. The modern contest known as “World’s Strongest Woman” first began in 1997 and despite not being held continuously since then, still continues to this day.
36. It’s All Greek to Me
Milo of Croton was one of the earliest men in recorded history to have feats of his strength define his legacy. Winner of multiple Olympic medals, and also being an accomplished soldier, Milo was said to have had superhuman strength. He was said to have carried his own bronze statue to where it was to be erected in Olympia. In another anecdote, he saved the life of philosopher Pythagoras by holding up the roof of a collapsing hall while Pythagoras fled outside. Though we’ll never know for sure how much of his story was true, his example would go on to inspire others (some of whom might appear on this list).
35. Let’s Go for Three!
The winner of the 2016 and 2017 World’s Strongest Woman title is British strongwoman Donna Moore. We’ll see if she manages to win it again in 2018!
34. Mixing Work and Romance
In one of the more remarkable stories of the trade, fifteen-year-old Kate Williams met William Roberts at a women’s gymnasium in Abergavenny, Wales, which Roberts was running in 1890. The two of them fell in love and put Abergavenny behind them to chase the dream of being a strongman and strongwoman, respectively. They also conveniently ignored the fact that Roberts was already married and had a family at the time of their elopement!
33. The Champ to Beat
From 2003 to 2008, Polish strongwoman Aneta Florczyk held the title of World’s Strongest Woman. She’s won the competition more than anyone else, at least as of 2018. Challenge accepted, ladies?
32. Scotland’s Greatest Athlete
Donald Dinnie was a famous athlete in the 19th century, which wasn’t necessarily a century in which it was easy to become famous. Dinnie accomplished this feat by winning the Scottish Highland Games Championship for a whopping 21 consecutive years! In 1860, Dinnie managed to carry two granite boulders (weighing a combined 733 pounds) for 17 feet!
31. The Might of Donald
Donald Dinnie’s legacy as an athlete and strongman was such that “heavy artillery shells in the First World War were nicknamed Donald Dinnies.” Additionally, the heavy weights which he lifted in his lifetime have since become called “Dinnie Stones” and it continues to be a challenge to try and lift them for as long as possible. The current record is 38.6 seconds, which was done in June 2018.
30. Battle of the Sexes
Austrian-born Katharina Brumbach was born for the circus (seriously, her parents were both circus performers). Her strength was such that her father would dare men in the audience to out-wrestle his daughter for a money prize. Brumbach was so good that her father never had to pay out the prize! However, her greatest challenge came when she participated in a New York City weightlifting contest against strongman Eugen Sandow. Brumbach managed to lift a weight of 300 pounds over her head, while Sandow could only bring the same weight up to his chest. Brumbach celebrated this triumph by taking the surname “Sandwina” (a feminine version of Sandow) as her new stage name.
29. Love is in the Air, Over My Head
Because life sometimes works on movie logic, Katie Sandwina would eventually meet the love her life while she was challenging men to out-wrestle her. His name was Max Heymann, and he even participated in her act. Brumbach would lift Heymann over her head with just one hand (he weighed 165 pounds). The two of them would be married for fifty-two years, because sometimes true love happens.
28. A Happy Ending
Incredibly, Katie Sandwina performed her feats of strength up to the age of sixty years old! After years of performing in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sandwina eventually did retire. She and her husband opened a restaurant in New York, while their sons became a heavyweight boxer and an actor respectively. Both of them used their mother’s stage name, because of course they did!
27. Four’s a Strong Number…
One aspect of the World’s Strongest Man competition is their Hall of Fame. Given the relatively niche nature of the competition, and its relatively short lifespan, only four men have been inducted into the Hall of Fame as of 2018. These men are Jón Páll Sigmarsson, Svend Karlsen, Bill Kazmaier, and, of course, Mariusz Pudzianowski.
26. In Soviet Russia…
Ivan Poddubny was a Russian professional wrestler and strongman in the early half of the 20th century. He was the first man to become a six-time consecutive champion of Greco-Roman wrestling. In a career which spanned forty years, he only lost twice.
25. Beware Iceland
Two people from Iceland have won the award for World’s Strongest Man. That means Iceland can argue that it has the strongest men in the world, per capita at least. To be fair, given their Viking past, we’re not exactly surprised.
24. Fantastic Four
Speaking of those Icelanders, Magnús Ver Magnússon and Jón Páll Sigmarsson have each won the World’s Strongest Man competition four times! They’re in second and third place, respectively, for most wins to this day.
23. The Terrible Turk
Yusuf İsmail was a Turkish wrestler who toured Europe and the United States in the 1800s. Known for his incredible strength, he dared any wrestler to face him in the ring for longer than 15 minutes, offering a reward of 100 pounds (in 1890s currency, mind you). Accomplished wrestler George Bothner was the only man to accept the challenge. Not only was he immediately defeated, he was knocked out cold and suffered a neck injury for “several days” after the fight.
22. Food, Glorious Food
One aspect of being a strongman or strongwoman is the need for vast amounts of calories to maintain their physique and strength. Even 10,000 daily calories would be seen as the average for strength athletics, and that skyrockets when you throw sumo wrestlers into the mix!
21. Bow Before Me
Asashoryu Akinori was the 68th man to achieve the title of Yokozuna, and he was also the first man of Mongolian background to do so. In 2005, he won all six of the official sumo competitions in Japan, which was another first in the history of modern sumo wrestling. Given that he could bench press more than 440 pounds, we’re not surprised that he was so successful!
20. Quality AND Quantity!
Hakuhō Shō was the second Mongolian to become a Yokozuna, and he managed to outdo his predecessor, Asashoryu Akinori. As of 2018, Hakuhō Shō “has been ranked as a Yokozuna for a record 64 tournaments.” He also holds the following records: most wins in a calendar year (86), most wins as a Yokozuna (792), most career wins (1080), and most undefeated championships (13).
19. Silver Medallist
Flemming Rasmussen held the title of Denmark’s Strongest Man for seven years from 1995 to 2000, and then coming back to reclaim the title in 2003. He also competed for the international title of World’s Strongest Man, reaching his peak when he came second place in 1997.
18. Hopefully There Was Prize Money
You might be wondering what Flemming Rasmussen did before he was competing in Strongman competitions. It turns out that he was spending his time bowling! In fact, Rasmussen was the ten-pin bowling champion of all Denmark! To be honest, that makes perfect sense to us.
17. The Great Gama
Indian-born Ghulam Mohammad Baksh, known as The Great Gama, is remembered as being one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live. In a career which lasted 52 years, Baksh was undefeated the entire time! Aside from this incredible record, Baksh was also known for his incredible training regimen, which reportedly included 5,000 squats and 3,000 push-ups per day!
16. The Mountain that Rides
Aside from having a nigh-unpronounceable name for anyone outside of Iceland, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson holds the title of World’s Strongest Man as of 2018. In addition, Björnsson is the third actor to play Ser Gregor Clegane on Game of Thrones. And at 6’9″, he is also the shortest person to play the formidable Mountain.
15. Heck of a Lady!
Josephine Schauer was better known by her stage name “Minerva.” She worked as a strongwoman until 1910, during which time her feats of strength included lifting a platform holding 23 men and weighing 3,564 pounds using a hip-and-harness lift. This act, which happened at Hoboken, New Jersey’s Bijou Theatre on April 15, 1895, was listed as the greatest weight ever lifted by a woman by Guinness Book of World Records. Not only that, she was “the first woman to ever hold a professional wrestling championship.” Said championship was when she won the very first Women’s World Championship during the 1890s.
14. Power Couple
As well as making her name as a strongwoman in her own right, Minerva married a strongman named Charles Blatt. After she retired from her profession of defying sexism with brute strength, Minerva rather randomly began a career in real estate, of all things. She would pass away in September 1923.
13. Worth It?
Bringing up Iceland again, one of their ancient records talks about an unbelievable physical feat performed over 1,000 years ago. The story went that a man named Orm Storulfsson walked three steps while carrying a huge log that took fifty people to lift it onto his back! The log was supposedly more than 10 meters long and weighed nearly 1,500 pounds. Sadly, the reason that Storulfsson couldn’t carry it further than three steps was because the strain actually broke his back. Although he never fully recovered from this, it remained a legendary feat recorded for more than ten centuries!
Of course, some might say that the above story of Orm Storulfsson was just a legendary exaggeration rather than proven historical fact. We’d be inclined to consider that if it wasn’t for Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson not only trying out that physical challenge but outdoing it! In 2015, Björnsson carried a log with the same proportions as Storulfsson’s log for five steps! After successfully carrying it, the giant strongman proudly declared that he had “made history” and declared “Nothing can stop me! Nothing can break me!” We’re inclined to agree with him.
11. Canadian Samson
One of the strongest men to have ever lived was Louis Cyr. Born and raised in Quebec, Canada, Cyr grew up with stories of Milo of Croton (remember him?) and sought to outdo him if he could. Cyr would go on tour as a strongman, with one of his most impressive acts involving him lifting a platform on his back. Doesn’t sound that impressive? Well, consider the fact that it would have 18 men standing on it at the time! Even when you consider that some of his achievements were subject to some exaggeration, his records have led the current chairmen of the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness, Ben Weider, to call Cyr the strongest man to have ever lived.
10. Tuck In!
Naturally, a man with such strength needed to have a lot to eat, and Louis Cyr was no exception. Cyr would regularly eat up to six pounds of meat per meal! Given that this was also the man who allegedly lifted a weight of more than 500 pounds with just one finger, we’d gladly let him go back for second helpings at the buffet!
9. Hello Up There!
Angus MacAskill holds an interesting record when it comes to strongmen. Standing at a jaw-dropping 7’9″, he is listed as the tallest man in recorded history, excluding those people who have suffered from gigantism (such as Andre the Giant). There is no evidence that MacAskill had any such disease—he was simply a giant in every sense of the word!
8. Giant MacAskill
Born in Scotland and growing up in Cape Breton, Canada, MacAskill was by all accounts an ordinary-sized baby and child. However, puberty was incredibly generous to him, and he reached a height of 7’4″ by the time he was 20 years old. His shoulders were 44 inches wide, his wrists each had a circumference of nearly 14 inches, and he wore boots which were 17.5 inches long!
7. Ain’t No Thing!
After he’d reached his full height and strength, MacAskill made a career out of sailing and a habit out of showing off his strength to awestruck audiences. Among his many acts of strength was his ability to lift a horse over a four-foot fence and lift an anchor weighing 2,800 pounds up to his chest! He was also reported to have set a 40-foot mast into a schooner all by himself! Too bad he wasn’t around when Game of Thrones needed to cast Gregor Clegane!
6. By Any Means Necessary
Kate Williams and William Roberts formed a strongperson act together, and they took the stage names “Vulcana” and “Atlas” respectively. They toured London during the 1890s before moving to Australia in 1903. To avoid facing a public scandal over the fact that Roberts had deserted a wife and kids to have a relationship with a woman he wasn’t married to, Vulcana and Atlas were billed as being siblings! The secret of their relationship (which included six children) wasn’t revealed until after they’d retired.
5. Don’t Bring Me Down!
One downside of their success was the fact that William “Atlas” Roberts would often exaggerate his abilities to sell tickets, and this came back to haunt him on several occasions. There would be times where it was revealed that he was lifting weights that weren’t quite as heavy as he pretended. In the case of Kate “Vulcana” Williams, however, she has a number of feats to her name which have been confirmed as having happened. Among them was Vulcana’s knack for lifting a bent press which weighed at least 125 pounds, with some records claiming it was 145 pounds.
4. A Real Superheroine
Outside of her career showing off her strength, Vulcana also used her abilities to perform daring acts of heroism. Of course, some of these incidents were made up and used to sell her act, but a few of them really did happen to her. In 1901, Vulcana plunged into the River Usk and saved two children from drowning. Twenty years later, she risked her life to save another act’s horses from burning to death when the Garrick Theatre in Edinburgh caught fire in 1921. She was commended and awarded for both these acts.
3. You Go, Girl!
Laverie Vallee, better known as Charmion, was one of the most controversial strongwomen of her day. Her best-remembered act was to get up onto a trapeze while dressed in Victorian-style clothes (it was the Victorian era, to be fair). The act would then see her disrobe down to the last layer of clothing—leotards—all while keeping her balance in the air.
2. It was a Simpler Time
Charmion would go on to perform her controversial act for a new invention called a “short film.” Thomas Edison filmed her performing her act mixing striptease and trapeze on the 11th of November 1901. Because of the time period’s code of what was acceptable entertainment, Edison ensured that two men were in the film, giving applause cues and catching her clothes to encourage the audience to have the same reaction, rather than storm out or pop their monocles over a strongwoman taking her dress off.
1. The Father of Modern Bodybuilding
Eugen Sandow was one of the first modern bodybuilders, performing regularly in London. Even in an age without protein shakes or the more updated workout regimens of today, Sandow was famous for having an unbelievable figure, using a more scientific approach to having and maintaining his physique. One aspect of his show was that women were invited to touch his body to prove that he was genuinely as muscular as he seemed. Smelling salts were famously kept on hand in case they fainted!
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