From the Iron Game Collectors Series

Lionel Strongfort (MAX UNGER). “Nothing abnormal here: just symmetry and beauty, combined with the greatest possible strength.”

Lionel Strongfort, whose real name was Max Unger, was born in Berlin, Germany, November 23, 1878. He began his famed stage career around 1897, becoming world renowned for his “Human Bridge Act” (The Tomb of Hercules position). Strongfort’s greatest fame came after retiring from the stage in the early 1900s, launching his world famous mail order course, “Strongfortism,” which appeared in popular publications the world over.

For more than 25 years until about 1935, “Strongfortism” was one of the most successful train-by-mail correspondence school adventures. Unfortunately, the Great Depression of the thirties proved to be an economic disaster for most mail-order concerns. Strongfort’s full-length physique pose, his trademark, became famous in all his ads the world over. His well-balanced, symmetrical physique was in demand by the world’s greatest artists and sculptors. Lionel Strongfort lived a healthy, active life until he passed away at the ripe old age of 92.

At 16 years of age Lionel Strongfort was a watch and clockmaker’s apprentice. A lover even then of the art of the sculptor, he accidentally met the original Professor Attila.

His admiration of this famous trainer’s fine physique aroused Professor Attila’s interest in him. Lionel needed but little encouragement. He attended the Attila training quarters as often as possible.

At 17 years of age (seen left) he was able to do a double-handed lift of 250 lb. without any great exertion — the Professor prevented his favourite and most promising pupil from premature overstrain. Strongfort’s single-handed lift overhead at this time was 130 lb. In other ways, too, Attila guarded his favourite pupil.

He discouraged smoking, drinking, late hours, and everything that would militate against Strongfort becoming the world’s champion athlete. The latter was encouraged to take part in boxing, wrestling, and other strenuous games and sports. He aroused enthusiasm by the terrific fights he put up against the Turkish wrestlers at that time touring the world.

One was the gigantic Yussuff (whom the “Terrible Greek” himself described as the strongest wrestler he had ever met), who was drowned in the sinking of the Transatlantic line “La Burgone.” Another was the almost equally formidable Halil Adali. Where Strongfort scored was with his wonderful strength and endurance. The appreciative Turkish wrestlers pressed him again and again to become one of them, telling him that they would teach him all the areas of wrestling and make him a world’s champion wrestler. About this time, however, there arose a world-wide variety theatre demand for what was known in the profession as “Strong Man Turns.”

Even in the late 1890s and 1900s the preference was for athletes of the classical rather than the clumsily strong figure. The late Eugene Sandow was the first to rise to world pre-eminence in this respect, and Lionel Strongfort, a younger man, became his world-acknowledged successor.

It is well nigh impossible for the blas√© young man of today to imagine the awe and admiration that hushed the theatres when Lionel Strongfort made his appearance. In the eyes of the audience he was the living reincarnation of the ancient Greek athlete as he reproduced the poses of the world’s most famous sculptures of the human form divine, such as the javelin thrower, runner, boxer, discus-thrower, wrestler, gladiator, and other admired examples that express the beauty and strength of the ancient Greek athletes.
Gasp after gasp of astonishment rippled through the London Pavilion, The Alhambra, and others of the then-leading theatres of London, the Provinces, and other parts of the World, as Strongfort suddenly changed his programme from the passivity of beauty to the Herculean efforts of his superhuman feats of strength. He turned graceful somersaults while holding a 50-lb. weight in each hand. Then he turned another lightning-like somersault while holding a 150-lb. barbell. About this time, too, he set up a world’s record lift of 312-lb., over Louis Cyr’s 273-lb. Undoubtedly, Strongfort’s most sensational feat was his “Human Bridge Act,” where he supported a fully occupied motorcar . It was performed in full view of the theatre audience right at a time when the motorcar was something of a novelty. But there was much more in this spectacular feat of human muscular co-ordination than was apparent to the great majority of the spectators.

Lionel Strongfort in his 90s

The “motor” of those days was not the docilely smooth vehicle of today. Its progress was apt to be jerky and explosive, thereby almost doubling the effect of the colossal weight of the car and its occupants.

Further, it was not a case of merely lifting or sustaining a slowly descending weight. The car approached and departed at a side-twist angle of its huge weight of 7,000 lb. Actually, the easiest split-second of the feat’s time was when the car was equally balanced over Strongfort’s supporting body. Such spectacular feats as were being performed by Strongfort naturally attracted the attention of scientists, doctors, surgeons, sculptors, and artists.


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