Charles Atlas

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Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas - Physical Culture Magazine - October 1921.JPG
Charles Atlas in Physical Culture Magazine (October 1921)
BornAngelo Siciliano
October 30, 1893
Acri, Italy
DiedDecember 23, 1972(1972-12-23) (aged 79)
Long Beach, New York[1]
Known forBodybuilding
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This article is about Charles Atlas the bodybuilder. For Charles Atlas, a pioneer in media dance, see Charles Atlas (Media Dance). For the AFI song, see Very Proud of Ya.
Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas - Physical Culture Magazine - October 1921.JPG
Charles Atlas in Physical Culture Magazine (October 1921)
BornAngelo Siciliano
October 30, 1893
Acri, Italy
DiedDecember 23, 1972(1972-12-23) (aged 79)
Long Beach, New York[1]
Known forBodybuilding

Charles Atlas, born Angelo Siciliano (October 30, 1893[1] – December 23, 1972), was the developer of a bodybuilding method and its associated exercise program that was best known for a landmark advertising campaign featuring Atlas's name and likeness; it has been described as one of the longest-lasting and most memorable ad campaigns of all time.[2]

According to Atlas, he trained himself to develop his body from that of a "scrawny weakling", eventually becoming the most popular muscleman of his day. He took the name "Charles Atlas" after a friend told him he resembled the statue of Atlas on top of a hotel in Coney Island[3] and legally changed his name in 1922. His company, Charles Atlas Ltd., was founded in 1929 and, as of 2010, continues to market a fitness program for the "97-pound weakling" (44 kg). The company is now owned by Jeffrey C. Hogue.


Comic ad from 1949 featuring Charles Atlas

Born Angelo Siciliano in Acri, Calabria, Italy, in 1893, Angelino, as he was also called, moved to Brooklyn, New York at the age of 10 and eventually became a leather worker. He tried many forms of exercise initially, using weights, pulley-style resistance, and gymnastic-style calisthenics. Atlas claimed they did not build his body. Atlas was inspired by other fitness and health advocates who preceded him; world-renowned strongman Eugen Sandow and Bernarr MacFadden (a major proponent of "Physical Culture").

As a youth, according to the story he always told, a bully kicked sand into Siciliano's face at a beach; at this time in his life, also according to the story, he weighed only 97 pounds (44 kg).[4] Humiliated, the young Siciliano joined the YMCA and began to do numerous exercise routines, becoming obsessed with strength. According to several stories/claims, while at the zoo, watching a lion stretch, he thought to himself "Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers?...And it came over me....He's been pitting one muscle against another!"[5] He concluded that lions and tigers became strong by pitting muscle against muscle.[6]

In 1921, Bernarr MacFadden, publisher of the magazine Physical Culture, dubbed Siciliano "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man" in a contest held in Madison Square Garden[5][7] He soon took the role of strongman in the Coney Island Circus Side Show.

In 1922, the now-30-year-old Siciliano officially changed his name to Charles Atlas, as it sounded much more American. He met Dr. Frederick Tilney, a British homeopathic physician and course writer who was employed as publisher Bernarr MacFadden's "ideas man." Atlas and Tilney met through MacFadden, who was using Atlas as a model for a short movie entitled "The Road to Health." Atlas wrote a fitness course and then asked Tilney to edit the course. Tilney agreed and Atlas went into business in 1922. Tilney himself had an extensive background in weight training.[5]

Dynamic Tension[edit]

Main article: Dynamic tension

Atlas' "Dynamic Tension" program consists of twelve lessons and one final perpetual lesson. Each lesson is supplemented with photos of Atlas demonstrating the exercises. Atlas' lesson booklets added commentary that referred to the readers as his friends and gave them an open invitation to write him letters to update him on their progress and stories. His products and lessons have sold millions, and Atlas became the face of fitness. Among the people who took Atlas' course were Max Baer, heavyweight boxing champion from 1934 to 1935,[8] Rocky Marciano, heavyweight boxing champion from 1952 to 1956 and Joe Louis, heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949.


Atlas was described as a student of Earle E. Liederman in several editions of a Liederman booklet, until shortly before the Dynamic Tension course was published. The 1918 edition of the booklet states that Atlas had performed a one-arm overhead press with 236 lb.[9] The 1920 edition states a 266 lbs one-arm overhead press.[10]

The American Continental Weight Lifting Association (ACWLA)

"In April of 1924, (David P.) Willoughby staged a "National" weightlifting championship, which was also supposed to serve as a basis for selecting an Olympic Team to represent the United States at the upcoming Paris Olympic Games (no team was ever sent to Paris). In the meantime, Jowett joined the staff of Calvert's Strength magazine and began, with Calvert, to push the ACWLA. The ACWLA was also reorganized, with Jowett as president, Coulter and Willoughby as vice presidents, and an advisory board that included Charles Atlas, Bernard, Calvert, Earle Leiderman, Charles MacMahon, Bernarr Macfadden and Henry Titus (many of the major players in the Iron Game at that time). Jowett was to be the editor of Strength magazine from 1924 to 1927 and that position, along with his energy in it, made him the most powerful voice for the organization of weightlifting in the United States at that time. He staged a number of competitions and the first ACWLA governance meeting (in late 1924). At that meeting, issues such as the lifts to be contested were agreed to."[11]

Artists' model[edit]

Besides photographs, Atlas posed for many statues throughout his life, including the statue of George Washington in New York's Washington Square Park, Dawn of Glory[12] in Brooklyn's Highland Park (sometimes misreported as Prospect Park), and Alexander Hamilton at the U.S. Treasury building in Washington, D.C.[13] Atlas was also an inspiration and a model for later bodybuilders and fitness gurus, including Arnold Schwarzenegger.[citation needed]


In 1972, Atlas died of heart failure at age 79 after his daily jog on the beach (his family had a history of heart attacks). At the time, people were still writing to him. He left behind a son, Charles Jr., and a daughter, Diana.[1]

The print advertisements[edit]

The famous Charles Atlas print advertisements became iconic mostly because they were printed in so many comic books from the 1940s. The typical scenario presented a skinny young man (usually accompanied by a female companion) being threatened by a bully. The bully pushes down the "97-pound weakling"[14] and the girlfriend joins in the derision. The young man goes home, gets angry (usually demonstrated by his kicking a chair), and sends away for the free Atlas book. Shortly thereafter, the newly muscled hero returns to the place of his original victimization, seeks out the bully, and beats him up. He is rewarded by the swift return of his girlfriend and the admiration of onlookers.

The ad was said to be based on an experience the real Atlas had as a boy.[15] With variations, it was a mainstay of comic books and boys' magazines for decades. The ads usually conclude with the words "As is true of all the exercises in Atlas's course, you can do these exercises almost anywhere."[16]

"The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac"[edit]

In this, the full-length version, the protagonist, "Mac," is accosted on the beach by a sand-kicking bully while his date watches. Humiliated, the young man goes home and, after kicking a chair and gambling a three-cent stamp, subscribes to Atlas's "Dynamic-Tension" program. Later, the now muscular protagonist goes back to the beach and beats up the bully, becoming the "hero of the beach." His girl returns while other women marvel at how big his muscles are. (An earlier but otherwise almost identical version, "How Joe's Body Brought Him Fame Instead of Shame," debuted in the 1940s.[17])

"The Insult That Turned a 'Chump' Into a Champ"[edit]

In this version, which debuted in 1941,[17] "Joe" is at a fair with his girl when the bully (who has just shown his strength with the "Ring-the-Bell" game) insults and pushes him. Joe goes home, slams his fist on the table, and orders the free Atlas book. Joe then returns to the fair, rings the bell, and pushes down the bully while his girlfriend reappears to compliment him on his new, powerful physique.

"Hey, Skinny! Yer Ribs Are Showing!"[edit]

The condensed, four-panel version stars "Joe," though it is otherwise identical to Mac's story. Instead of "Hero of the beach," the words floating above Joe's head are "What a man!"

"How Jack the Weakling Slaughtered the Dance-Floor Hog"[edit]

Another version of the ad presents a scenario in which "Jack" is dancing with his girl, Helen. They are bumped into by a bully, who comments on how puny Jack is, not even worth beating up. Jack goes home, kicks a chair, and sends away for Atlas's "free book." Later, the muscular Jack finds the bully, punches him, and wins back the admiration of Helen. This time, the words "Hit of the party" float over his head as he basks in the admiration of the other dancers.

In popular culture[edit]


Film and TV[edit]


Magazine and newspapers[edit]


Video games[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ Kannenberg, Gene. "The Ad That Made an Icon Out of Mac," Hogan's Alley.. Retrieved August 6, 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ a b c Jonathan Black (August 2009). "Charles Atlas: Muscle Man". Smithsonian magazine. 
  6. ^ Wallechinsky, D. The 20th Century History with the Boring parts Left Out (Little Brown & Co., 1996).
  7. ^ Charles Atlas section of R. Christian Anderson's Sandow Museum website.. Retrieved September 30, 2008.
  8. ^ Muscles by Mail, Stewart Robertson, Family Circle Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 3, January 20, 1939.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ Maeder, Jay, "Charles Atlas Body and Soul," New York Daily News (May 16, 1999).. Retrieved September 30, 2008.
  14. ^ Where appropriate, such as in the UK, he was a pound heavier as a "seven-stone weakling". Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
  15. ^ " Federal judge: Parody of Atlas man protected by First Amendment," Associated Press (August 31, 2000).
  16. ^ Gaines, Charles and Butler, George. Yours in Perfect Manhood, Charles Atlas: the Most Effective Fitness Program Ever Devised (Simon & Schuster, 1982).
  17. ^ a b "Classic Ads,"
  18. ^ Geok-Lin Lim, Shirley, and Norman A. Spencer. One World of Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. pp. 847–48
  19. ^ Geok-Lin Lim, Shirley, and Norman A. Spencer. One World of Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. p. 846
  20. ^ James Woycke, Au Naturel: The History of Nudism in Canada, p. 3
  21. ^ Video on YouTube
  22. ^ Scratch Media
  23. ^ "Animals". National Lampoon ( (#46). November 17, 1997. Retrieved August 7, 2010. 
  24. ^ Sullivan, John (August 31, 2000). "Charles Atlas Complaint Held as Legal Weakling". The New York Times. 
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Grumpy Gamer Stuff and Things and Monkey Island". June 1, 2009. Retrieved August 7, 2010. 
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^

External links[edit]