The Second Apollon
by Dennis Mitchell
Most of today’s lifters are familiar with Louis Uni, who went by the stage name of Apollon. Uni was a 260 pound, 6 foot 3 inch strong man who lived from 1862 to 1928. He was most famous for his railroad wheels barbell. However, there was a second Apollon named J. C. Tolson, who was born July 16, 1903 in Dewsbury, England. Young Tolson got his inspiration to become a strongman after seeing a strongman at a traveling circus. He was 17 years old at the time. He started training and made very rapid progress, and soon was performing under the name of The Mighty Young Apollon. Tolson was much smaller than his name sake. He stood 5′ 6″ tall, 17.5″ neck, 48.5″ expanded chest, 32″ waist, 14″ forearms, 17″ biceps, 24″ thighs, and 16″ calves.
Although Tolson was a very good all round lifter, he was outstanding at bending iron bars. He entered a bar bending challenge in 1925 at the Empire Music Hall, put on by Alexander Zass, who went by the stage name of Samson. This was his first competition and he took third place. He rapidly improved and followed Zass as he put on challenges in other cities, always taking first place and the cash prizes. By the time Tolson had won over 200 pounds, which was a lot of money in the 1920’s, Zass changed his challenges to lifting a steel girder weighing 500 pounds. Tolson again took first place, and the money, by lifting the girder with his teeth. After this contest Tolson started issuing challenges for the title of Britain’s Champion Strongman. The events consisted of bending iron bars in various ways, teeth lifting, the two hand military press, and the two hand dead lift. Very few people took the challenge. Tolson, billed as The Mighty Young Apollon, continued to perform as a professional strongman. His act consisted of breaking chains with his fingers, lifting a 91.5 pound ring weight over head with his little finger (he later improved this to 108.25 pounds), bending iron bars, and tearing playing cards still in their case into quarters. He would drive a six inch nail into a wood plank and then pull the nail out with his teeth. He could support 20 men on his chest, and would have a tug-of-war with from 20 to 50 men, and at some shows would use two horses. At a body weight of 168 pounds he did a pullover and press with 249 pounds. At 165 pounds he did a one hand dead lift of 500 pounds, and a press behind head with 214.5 pounds. While weighing only 154.5 pounds he did a strict curl of 148 pounds. The heavy weight record at this time was only four pounds more.
As with many strong men of his time he also had a mail order muscle building course. His course was mostly isometrics. He would provide his students with various strength steel bars with instruction on how to bend them in order to work the different muscle groups. His course sold into the 1950’s. I could find no date for when or where he passed away.