Hugh David Evans, better known as Signor Lawanda, was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1849 to a family of slater miners. His mother died only two weeks after giving a birth and Evans was eventually force to work in the slate mines as a child laborer.
Signor’s mother was quite popular throughout the land for her strength and various feats she used to perform, like carrying a 375 pound barrel of flour up a set of stairs. Needless to say, young Signor Lawanda inherited the mother’s gift for performing feats of strength. When Signor was just eleven years old, his father took him to a circus in Rutland, Vermont and that’s all it took for him to embrace the life of a strongman.
At home, he used to replicate feats he saw in the circus and as his strength increased, Signor was able to hoist larger loads of stone and soon enough many challenged him to compete against them in lifting contests. Just sixteen years old, Lawanda was able to beat anyone who challenged him.
In 1865 Hugh David Evans teamed up with Comical Brown to perform strongman acts across the eastern United States, despite disappointment from his father. Some of his most popular feats from this period include lifting a barrel filled with water and four men hanging from the sides, which totaled to a weight of around 1000 lbs. Furthermore, he was capable of juggling 35 pounds chair, catching it with teeth on its way down. It’s no wonder Signor Lawanda earned the nickname “Iron Jawed Man”, considering that he could bite a silver coin in half and lift a 1400lbs horse using his teeth. Even P.T. Barnum, a well-known American showman, couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Lawanda lifting the horse.
During his performance in Boston at Forest Gardens in 1882, Lawanda was challenged by John L. Sullivan, who was one of the most popular athletes at the time and undefeated boxing champion. To everyone’s amazement, Lawanda was able to hoist a 400lbs barrel of water without much trouble, while John took his sweet time and still couldn’t do it. Agitated John challenged Lawanda to a fight, but eventually everyone calmed down and they actually became very good friends a couple of years later.
Signor Lawanda worked for many during his career, including Dan Rice Circus, E.W. Pop Wiggins with whom he toured the USA and Canada and finally for the Wonderland theater in Detroit, where he ended his career. Signor died of natural causes in 1934 in Detroit.