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Athletes

The Mighty Atom - Strongman

Strongman who became known as The World's Biggest Little Man

Born: 1893 - Suvalk, Poland
Died: October 8, 1977 - Brooklyn, New York

Joseph Greenstein - aka The Mighty Atom
The Mighty Atom

Joseph Greenstein, a.k.a. The Mighty Atom was born a sickly child in a small village in Poland. More than once during his childhood doctors were certain he would not survive, but he managed to make it through.

When he was a young teenager, he was caught sneaking under a tent into the circus and severely beaten by an angry stagehand. He was rescued from the beating by a circus strongman named Champion Volanko who decided to put the boy under his wing and trained him on strengthening his body and mind.

Greenstein traveled with Volanko and the Issakov Brothers' Circus for the next 18 months. After leaving the circus, a changed man, both physically and mentally, he moved back home, married, and began wrestling under the name "Kid Greenstein."

Soon after he immigrated to America with his family, settling in Galveston, Texas where he worked in oil fields. In 1914, a man who was obsessed with Greenstein's wife, shot him right between the eyes, and as the story goes, the bullet merely flattened on his forehead.

As a result of this near death experience, Greenstein became determined to hone both his mind and body and began developing many unusual feats of strength. Soon, the 5'5, 145 lb Greenstein was traveling the country as a strongman under the pseudonym of The Mighty Atom.

Some of his feats of strength included:

  • Pulling a 32 ton truck with his hair.
  • Holding back an airplane with his hair.
  • Lying on a bed of nails supporting a 14 person band on his chest.
  • Breaking up to three chains by expanding his chest.
  • Removing a car tire from its rim, bending steel bars, spikes and horse shoes, all with his bare hands.
  • Driving spikes into wood planks with his palm.

The Mighty Atom became a huge sensation on the vaudeville circuit traveling throughout the United States and Europe. He was considered to be one of the most remarkable strongmen of the 20th Century--A modern day Sampson. His most famous exploit took place on September 29th, 1928 at the Buffalo Airport, when in front of a large crowd of witnesses, he held his ground with his hair tied to an airplane accelerating at 60mph.

The Mighty Atom - Later Years
The Mighty Atom - Later Years

One of the Mighty Atom's deeply held beliefs was essentially that "if you think you can do something, you can do something, just by conquering your own mind." Through a combination of Asian concentration methods and Jewish mystical writings, he taught himself how to unlearn the mechanism that forces us to stop doing things when we think we have reached our physical limits. He was a vegetarian, although at the time such a diet was almost unheard of.

Throughout his life, Greenstein actively supported Jewish causes and helped sell World War I and II war bonds. During World War II, The Mighty Atom gave jujitsu and judo demonstrations to help recruit men into the New York Police Department, which was running low on recruits.

He continued to perform his strongman act until he was 83 years old, when he gave his last performance at Madison Square Garden on May 11, 1977. A biography of him was written by Ed Speilman called The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein: The Mighty Atom, World's Strongest Man."

He died in Brooklyn, at the age of 84.

See also: Siegmund "Zishe" Breitbart

Interesting Facts
  • The Mighty Atom was featured several times in "Ripley's Believe it or Not."
  • The 1976 Guinness Book of World Records cites him as having "the world's strongest bite."
  • He traveled in an old Model A truck full of citations from civic leaders and press clippings.
  • He was honored by NYC Mayor LaGuardia for his contributions on behalf of the NYPD.
Further Reading
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