Galen Gough was a strongman born in 1899 in Kentucky, at his grandparents’ home. Even as a child, Galen was bigger and taller than his coevals and most people believed that genes are to blame, since Galen’s father was quite large man as well.
Not many of us live up to our childhood dreams, but it looks like Galen Gough certainly did. At the age of 16, Galen dreamed off becoming world’s strongest man which isn’t so strange when you realize he weighed 180 pounds and stood 6 feet tall. However, one day he just decided to get up from his school chair and visit Louisville in order to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. The timing was pretty bad and he soon found himself fighting in World War One.
He suffered many injuries throughout his service, but the worst one happened when he was hit by the explosive projectile while firing from a machine gun. A part of it split his head open, injuring delicate brain tissue. This shrapnel totally paralyzed his left side of the body. After many months of various treatments, not one physician could give him better prognosis. He was hopelessly stuck in a wheelchair. After one year he came back home, after being discharged on disability basis. But the agony continues there, since he was left with twisted mouth which prevented him from speaking clearly coupled with serious eyesight and hearing problems.
Galen Gough even submitted himself to the ministry shortly after, but due to bad memories and his war wounds, he quickly lost his ministry after drinking and fighting in local bars for months and months. In 1920, Galen was diagnosed with traumatic psycho neurosis by doctors who also suggested supervision for Gough – for his own good. He was sent to a mental hospital and that’s where he became curious about physical culture. Years later, Galen finally decided start a new life with changes to his diet, including more natural food and regular training. This is somewhat contradictional since Galen claimed he was still completely paralyzed on the left side when he started training, which is probably because he thought it would make a better story.
In any case, Gough didn’t have any weights so he had to improvise with rocks lashed to sticks to imitate barbells and ash cans filled with gravel for dumbbells. Doctors pretty much laughed at the idea of recovering using weights, but he still went for it. He then went on to explain the beginnings of the recovery:
When I still limped with my right foot, I used to
put it in a pulley and work the pulley up and
down with my good arm, just to exercise the
paralyzed side. I had no strength in my hands. I
used to hold a rubber sponge in my right hand
and try to grip it to gain strength.
I had so little strength in my fingers that
I could not go on with the art work I had taken in
the vocational school in New York . . . I used to
chew on a rubber sponge to develop strength in
Soon enough, Galen increasing neck size by 3 1/2 inches and biceps by 3 inches, while gaining ~60 pounds in bodyweight. Eventually he made other type of weights and trained on a daily basis. After surprisingly short period of time, Galen Gough became very strong, doing 1200 harness style lifts and getting involved in wrestling matches versus carnival wrestlers. During one of those matches, Galen was spotted by Bisch Turner who was in charge with sideshows, asking him to join the carnival as a strongman. Galen accepted this offer and started earning some money, performing strongman feats and wrestling.
His days with the Brown & Dyers Carnival were over when he lost several teeth during a jaw feat act in which six men were hanging from a bar he held with his teeth. The bar split and he had to take time off to recover, deciding to start performing on his own instead. He did everything from hanging by his teeth on a rope connected to a flying plain to wrestling a bear for another carnival. As his strongman career went on, Galen eventually earned titles like “The World’s Miracle Strong Man”, “The Strongest Man on Earth”, “The World’s Most Sensational Strong Man”, “The Daringest Daredevil in the World” – fulfilling his childhood dreams.
By 1925, Galen Gough was already lifting weights regularly and breaking many records set by professional weightlifters. He would often issue challenges, but no one ever dared to accept one. From 1922 to 1927, he toured the US performing amazing strongman acts, including the most popular one – getting ran over by a vehicle.
Other feats of strength Galen performed on a regular basis:
- 300-pounds Anvil Juggling
- Getting hit on the back by a large iron bar by any man of his size in audience
- Supporting a car using his hands and legs
- Lifting the front of car using one hand
- 600 pounds teeth lift
- Biting all the way through a key
- Hanging from an airplane using a rope tied to his teeth, while carrying 50lbs weights in each hand
- Making a bracelet out of a steel wagon wheel
- Phone-book tearing
- And many more…
Galen Gough died in 1962 at the age of 63.
Learn more about the most popular oldtime strongman and their training methods here.
My mother was Galen’s cousin. They were related on her father’s side, Lowell Taylor Wallace. She told me about Galen’s tearing a phone book apart when I was a child.
I am Galen’s daughter. I remember some of his feats, including tearing los angeles phone book in half.
I am Galen’s daughter. He was the best dad anyone could have. He died when I was 20 years old. If it was today, a CT could have been done and surgery would have saved his life. I couldn’t have had better parents.