by Dennis Mitchell
Siegmund “Zisha” Breitbarth was born in Starwieschtch, City of Lodz, Poland in 1883 in an orthodox Jewish family. He was the second of seven children. His father was a blacksmith. The first evidence of his strength was at age three. While playing in his father’s shop, a heavy bar fell on him and he was able to lift it off and free himself. By age four he was helping his father with his work. He was a bit of a trouble maker and was expelled from several religious school for demonstrating his strength on his fellow students.
During the first World War he served in the Russian army and was a prisoner of war in Germany. After the war he remained in Germany and made his living by performing as a strongman in the market place. It was there that he was spotted by the manager of “Circus Bush”, the largest circus in the world at that time. He traveled with the circus performing as a clown, acrobat, and as a strong man, and was featured as the opening act. From the circus he went into vaudeville, performing in Vienna. At that time political events were quite unsettled. The emerging Nazi Party was active as a result of France’s occupation of the Rue. There were many bloody confrontations. Even with the anti-Semitism, hostility, and prejudice at a post war high, Siegmund was very popular in Vienna, more than any other entertainer or sports figure at that time.
In 1923 he emigrated to the Unite States, and in 1924 became a citizen. He continued to work in vaudeville and was reported to be earning $7,000 a week, an unbelievable amount of money in the 1920s. His act consisted of bending iron bars (that’s where he got the name “Ironking”), breaking horse shoes, pulling a wagon full of people with his teeth, supporting an elephant in the event known as the “Tomb of Hercules”, and carrying a baby elephant up a ladder. He would support a car full of people on his chest while lying on his back. He could drive a spike through a thick plank with his bare hands.
He wrote a book called Muscle Power, and also sold a mail order body building course. He thought of himself as a modern day Samson, and wanted to train an army of strongmen in order to free Palestine from British rule. While touring Europe he pierced his leg with a rusty spike while driving it through a plank with his hand. He developed blood poisoning, and in spite of two surgeries, died in Berlin Germany Oct. 12th, 1925 at the age of forty-two.
At the age of thirty-one he had the following measurements: Chest 50″, neck 19″, arms 15.5″, waist 35″, and calf 17″. There are no records of what Siegmund could lift with either barbells or dumbbells. He said that the audiences were more interested in his supporting events and bar bending.