Angelo Siciliano, aka The 97 Pound Weakling
by Dennis Mitchell
Angelo, sometimes called Angelino, was born in Calabria Italy in 1893, either on October 30, or April 20, depending if you asked his mother,Teresa, or his father, Santo. He arrived in the United States at the age of ten, and lived in a poor section of Brooklyn, New York. After a short time his father, who worked as a farmer, returned to Italy. His mother, a devout Catholic, raised him while working in a sweat shop as a seamstress. Angelo soon left school and went to work in a factory making ladies pocketbooks.
Angelo was a frail child, and two times was beaten up, once near his home and once at Coney Island on the beach. Humiliated that he could not defend himself, he joined the Y.M.C.A. where he started working out on stretching machines and doing gymnastics. He read Bernard Macfadden’s Physical Culture magazine, and using a set of home-made barbells followed his instructions. He said that his results were very disappointing. At this time in order to sound more American, he changed his name to Charles.
While visiting the zoo at the age of seventeen, he was fascinated with a muscular lion and watched as the lion would stretch and “flex” his muscles. Charles thought this may be a more natural way to develop his muscles. Using a system of using one muscle against another muscle, he began to show results and by the age of nineteen, he was demonstrating a chest developer in a store on Broadway. He was soon working as an artist’s model and performing strength feats in vaudeville with a strongman named “Young Sampson”. He worked with Earl E. Liederman and in the ConeyIsland Circus side show.
In 1918 he married Margaret Casana and in time they had two children. It was somewhere around this time that he legally changed his last name to Atlas. In 1921 he won Bernard Macfadden’s ” Worlds Most Perfectly Developed Man” contest at Madison Square Garden. When he won again the following year, Macfadden said there was no use putting on future contests because Atlas would win every time. In 1922 Atlas started his mail order body building business. His course needed no equipment, and he also gave advice on nutrition, grooming and personal behavior. For several years his business was struggling. He opened and soon closed a gym in Manhattan. He worked as physical director at a summer camp for two years, with no pay. His mail order business finally started to make money in 1928, when he hired a young advertising agent named Charles P. Roman. Charles Atlas Ltd. was formed in February 1928 with the two men being equal partners. Under Roman’s guidance the business was very successful. It was Roman who came up with the name of “Dynamic Tension”, which was the main part of the Charles Atlas system. They advertised in many pulp magazines, Popular Science, and many comic books. The course sold for $30.00. He opened branches in London, England in1936, and one in Rio de Janeiro in 1939. By the early 1940’s, over 400,000 copies of the Atlas course had been sold. Even with his financial success, Atlas lived a private and simple life. The partnership lasted until 1970, when Atlas retired and sold his half of the business to Roman.
This body building article would not be complete without a list of Charles Atlas’s measurements. He stood 5’10”, 180 pounds, 17″neck, 47″ chest, 17″ biceps, 14″ forearms, 32″waist, and 23.75″ thighs.
Charles Atlas died in Point Lookout, New York, December 23, 1972.