William Pagel was a circus strongman born in 1878 in Germany. Like many men of his time, Pagel was a sailor in his young days and enjoyed traveling around the world. During one of those journeys Pagel decided to leave the ship and settle in Australia. When he turned 19, Pagel was in great physical form as he always took care of his health & wellness. He was already pretty strong and packed with muscles, weighing 230 pounds. At that time he was hired to work in a restaurant on multiple positions. In fact, Pagel used to peel potatoes, wash dishes and take care of drunk customers in a professional and quite manner. His size definitely helped in dealing with problematic customers.
A couple of years later Pagel reached the height of 6 feet 1 inch while adding 30-40 more pounds to his weight. He was said to be a man of enormous wrists, even for a big-boned person. In 1902 Pagel joined a circus in Australia to start his career as a strongman. After two hard and long years, he managed to save money and earn enough reputation to take a step further and buy his own tent, big enough for 200 visitors. He packed the tent and sailed to South Africa where he established himself not only as a great strongman, but a formidable animal trainer. He specialized in lions taming.
Pagel was very busy at this time, doing at least ten shows per day. That’s even more impressive when you realize that he carried a 1,050 pounds horse up the eighteen-fait ladders each time he performed the show. Pagel also could resist the pull of four horses, holding two on each arm. At one time he managed to play tug of war with two large elephants, but the most scary and worrisome act was the one involving an unmuzzled lion. Pagel used to wrestle the lion during his shows and the scars on his huge forearms proved this to be a very serious act. At one time he was so badly injured that he had to punch a lion to stop it from killing him. It’s interesting that Pagel never used a stick or a whip in his animal acts, but rather a simple lead pencil to catch animals attention.
Despite his obvious strength, William Pagel was never big on showing off in the weightlifting field. The best documented weightlifting feat of strength for Pagel is just a bent press over a hundred pounds. However, his friends claimed that he would perform a right hand bent press of 250 pounds each night before he went to bed. Pagel was a courageous man who at one point saved his co-worker Rudolph Miller from being mauled, but sustained injuries himself. This decision led to his early retirement in 1933.
However, he still performed shows with lions even at seventy years old. Pagel died in his own bed in 1948 as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage, in his sleep. It’s worth mentioning that Hermann Goerner owns Pagel a great deal of gratitude since Pagel organized tours for Goerner for many years before Herman started performing under the management of W.A. Pullum. Pagel tried to perform as long as he could, but once his strength and injuries prevented him from performing certain acts, he had to find a replacement. That’s where Hermann Goerner came into place. The famous picture of Goerner wrestling an elephant (in the picture below) is actually an elephant from Pagel’s circus.
If you want to learn more traditional feats of strength like iron bending, card tearing, phonebook shredding and much more, make sure to check this out and start performing like an old-time strongman.