Ever since Samson’s time, hair has been considered a sign of power and virility. It didn’t take 19th-century strongmen long to figure out that they could use their locks to amaze the spectators and make names for themselves.
One of the most famous of those early capillary athletes, as they were often called, was a German named Sascha. At the climax of his turn-of-the-20th-century vaudeville act he would hang by his legs from a trapeze suspended high above the stage, with an 80-pound weight swinging from his hair. Eventually, Sascha marketed a line of hair products. Unfortunately, his Sascha for the Hair shampoo, made from concentrated coconut oil, proved to be even more ephemeral than his theatrical career.
Another early hair athlete was Professor Anthony Barker. He was born in Bohemia on March 15, 1866, and he came to America when he was 16. Like Sascha, this professional strongman possessed a strong and bushy head of hair. As proof of that, he would resist the pull of a whole string of men who took hold of his luxuriant mane.
Perhaps the greatest of the hair artistes was Joseph L. Greenstein, better known by his stage name, ‘The Mighty Atom.’ Born in a Polish ghetto in 1895, the diminutive Jewish athlete came to America and made a name for himself as a professional strongman in the 1920s. Using a system of steel combs and metal plates attached to his hair, Greenstein was able to suspend his entire body by his hair alone. His greatest triumph came in 1917, when he hung by his locks from an airplane flying hundreds of feet above the ground. IM
La Sant’ par les Sports, 1 January 1912
Physical Culture, September 1900
The Mighty Atom by Ed Spielman