Charles Atlas was born in Italy in 1892 as Angelo Siciliano. He moved to the USA with his parents when he was 13 years old in search for a better life, which turned out to be the right decision later on.
Angelo started training after visiting the Brooklyn Art Gallery where he was inspired by the Greek Gods mythology. There is a story about a bully, which Angelo always told, who kicked a sand in his face at a beach. Young Angelo weighed only 97 pounds at that time and that’s when he decided to start training hard in the nearby YMCA, using barbells, dumbbells, calisthenics and pulley-style resistance. This type of training didn’t produce satisfactory results for the young Angelo (as he claimed) and later on he saw a lion stretch in a zoo and came to a conclusion that animals become strong by pitting muscle against muscle, so why wouldn’t he use the same technique? According to this story, that’s how Charles Atlas came up with the idea of the Dynamic Tension, his own training program.
Bernarr Macfadden, who run the “Physical Culture” magazine, held a photo contest in 1920 which was won by Angelo Siciliano. Prize of a 1000 dollars was great, but what was even better is that “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man” title helped Angelo to get a job in Coney Island where he performed various stunts and feats of strength.
Finally, in 1922 Angelo decided to legally change his name to Charles Atlas. Charles sounded more American, but Atlas idea derived from his friend who told him he resembled the statue of Atlas, which was on a top of a hotel in Coney Island. Charles founded his company, Charles Atlas Ltd. in 1929 and, believe it or not, this company still exists today.
Even though a reliable source says that Charles Atlas had a family history of heart attacks and that he died following a daily jog on a beach, it turns out he never really jogged* at that age nor did he have the history of heart diseases. Instead, Charles was using a stationary bike at his own home and he developed diabetes in his 70’s. He was put on a high protein diet, which unfortunately clogged his arteries. After one of his daily exercise routines, Charles experienced chest pain and had to be hospitalized for further testing. He died at the age of 80 on December 24th, 1972 at the Memorial Hospital on Long Island.
* Many thanks to Bill Gibbons, a friend of Charles Atlas Jr, who provided more precise information about circumstances which led to Charles death.