Angelo Siciliano, better known as “Charles Atlas”, was an Italian-American bodybuilder and entrepreneur who is considered a founding father of modern-day body-building and fitness. Born in Acri, in the Calabria region, in 1892, ‘Angelino’ emigrated to the United States in 1904, at age 11, probably with his mother Teresa. His father, Santo Siciliano, was a farmer and he came to the US six years before, in 1898, to join his brother Gennaro who lived in Fort William, Canada.
Angelo grew up in Brooklyn, a skinny child who barely spoke English, teased and sometimes beaten by kids in his neighborhood, and by his uncle. As a young man, after he had sand kicked in his face by a bully lifeguard at Coney Island, he decided to change his life by improving his physique.
During a visit to the Bronx Zoo he had an epiphany recalled in his biography "Yours in Perfect Manhood", by Charles Gaines and George Butler. Watching a lion stretch, Angelo thought, "Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers?...And it came over me....He's been pitting one muscle against another!" Using a system of isometric exercises, which he called "Dynamic Tension," he built up his body. His chest was an impressive 54¾ inches and his biceps measured 17 inches, measurements he maintained for the rest of his life. Friends said that he resembled a statue of Atlas and the name stuck. He legally changed his name to Charles Atlas.
His father went back to Italy and Atlas had to learn leatherwork to help his mother support the family, until he realized he could get better jobs as an artist's model and as a strongman on Coney Island where he tore telephone books in half and punched nails through blocks of wood with his bare hands.
By the time Atlas was 25, he was posing as George Washington in Washington Square Park; as Civic Virtue in Queens Borough Hall; as Alexander Hamilton in Washington; as Dawn of Glory in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and as Patriotism for the Elks' national headquarters in Chicago.
He won a "Most Perfectly Developed Man" contest at Madison Square Garden in 1922.
Atlas developed his own muscle-building mail order business through the use of advertisements in popular magazines. The ads were everywhere -- in comic books, in magazines, in practically every publication a young man may have liked. His company did so well that it emerged from the stock market crash of 1929 unscathed.
In 1965 his wife, Margaret Cassano, died of cancer and he was so distraught he considered joining a monastery, but he kept going. On December 23, 1972, Charles Atlas died in a Long Island hospital of a heart attack. He was 79 years old.
He was selected by Forbes Magazine as one of the 20th Century's "Super Salesmen", and named one of the Most Influential People of the Twentieth Century by "Times Sunday Magazine."
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