Louis Attila, The Professor

by Dennis Mitchell

A Classic Picture of Louis Attila, The Professor

Louis Attila, whose real name was Ludwig Durlacher, was born July 2,1844 in Karlsruhe Germany. He was a well educated young man having studied with Professor Ernst, in Berlin. He played the piano and had mastered five languages. The significant change in his life came when he saw the Italian strongman Felice Napoli perform. Many strongmen at that time made their living by performing in theaters, music halls, and the circus. Young Ludwig became Napoli’s student, and learned all about the strongman profession. Staging, costumes, posing, showmanship, and performing. It seemed that there were two types of strongman shows. One where the performers were truly very strong and impressed the audience with lifting and supporting heavy weights, breaking chains and horse shoes. etc. Other strongman acts depended more on showmanship and staging, than on strength. Ludwig learned his craft well and worked with Napoli for a time, but in 1863 at the age of 19 he set off on his own. It is not clear how long he worked by himself as after a time he teamed up with “Valerie the Female Gladiator“. He also toured in both Europe and America. Ludwig, who now called himself Louis Attila (he took his name from the leader of the Huns), is also credited with inventing the Roman Chair, the shot loading globe barbell, the “Human Bridge” stunt that later became a regular part in many strongman acts. He was also the inventor of the Bent Press and was the first person to do 200 pounds in this lift. Other than lifting Attila was a very good all round athlete, and excelled in track and field and swimming. Although being only 5′ 4″ tall he had a very good physique,weighing 175 pounds with a 46″ chest, 17.5″ neck, 16.5″ calves, 25″ thighs, and a 36″ waist. His career was very successful and he performed in the capitals of Europe to standing room only crowds. In many of the cities where he performed he was asked to help and give advice to people on how to exercise. In approximately 1886-1887 he began to cut back on his strongman shows and opened his first gym in Brussels. It was at this gym that he first met Friedrich Muller, who is better known as Eugene Sandow. Attila was credited with discovering Sandow and coached him, and also performed with him. However this is material for another article. Attila opened another gym in London, and because of his success as a performer and his knowledge as an instructor he was very successful. Over the years he had many of Europe’s royalty as clients. Attila immigrated to New York City in August of 1893. New York had a large German population and he felt opening a gym there would attract them, having a German speaking owner. He also said that New York was full of office workers who were in need of rejuvenation. He named his gym, “Attila’s Athletic Studio and School of Physical Culture”. He was very successful and was the first to use weight training to help athletes improve themselves for other sports, particularly boxing. One of his students was boxing champion James J. Corbett. He was also among the first to encourage women to engage in muscle building workouts. He ran his gym until his death, March 15, 1924, at which time his son-in-law Seigmond Klein took over.