Angelo Sicilano was not what most people would consider a physically beautiful person. He was a skinny Italian immigrant who was pushed around by other boys – a veritable 97-pound weakling. One day he decided to change his life and transformed himself into Charles Atlas.
One day while at Coney Island, New York, accompanied by a young lady, Angelo was accosted by a bully who literally kicked sand in his face. A few days later the humiliated Sicilano found solitude in watching the animals at the local zoo. He curiously watched the lions as they stretched and noticed that as they stretched, their muscles bulged and rippled. After thinking for a while he surmised that imitating the lions motions might help him add muscle and strength to his own body. After developing a series of exercises, Sicilano was walking around Coney Island again and saw a statue of Atlas, the Greek god. He decided to take on a new name to match his new body and became Charles Atlas.
Atlas’ strengthening methods were based upon the concept of pitting one muscle against another or against an inanimate object. What he observed with the lions was them performing isometric exercises and he decided to label his methods dynamic tension – this would soon make him famous.
In 1922 Atlas entered a competition at Madison Square Garden and was awarded the title “World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.” He soon found himself in demand as a model for artists and sculptors. So popular was he that his physique was depicted in statues of George Washington in New York’s Washington Square, Alexander Hamilton in front of the United States Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. and the Archer in the Brooklyn Museum as well as more than 75 others around the world. After fielding question after question about how he revamped his body, Atlas decided to market his techniques to others. He teamed up with another young entrepreneur named Charles Roman and the two soon found a pot of gold. They came up with a marketing campaign revolving around a character named Mac (who, not surprisingly, was based on Atlas.) After a bully kicks sand in Mac’s face, Mac swears revenge, purchases the Charles Atlas program kit, becomes muscle-bound and defeats his adversary.
Over the next fifty years, Atlas and Roman would sell millions of units of the course, receiving positive responses from clients and the medical and health and fitness communities. Atlas continued to appear and perform for the public, demonstrating feats of strength well into his sixties (including one stunt in which he pulled a 145,000 pound railroad car more than 120 feet with a rope. He taught students around the world including Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano and Robert Ripley and impacted the health of generations to come. Atlas died in 1972 at the age of 79 and is still considered “the World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.”