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Immigrant Of The Day: Charles Atlas of Italy

by Kevin R. Johnson

Charles Atlas (Italy)

Atlas1 Charles Atlas (1892–1972) developed his body from that of a “scrawny weakling” to become the most popular muscleman of his day. His company, Charles Atlas, Ltd., (founded 1929 and continuing today) markets a fitness program for the “97-pound weakling,” a registered trademark.

Born Angelino Siciliano in Italy, Atlas immigrated to Brooklyn, New York at a young age. Siciliano worked hard to develop his physique. Contemplating the strength of a tiger in a zoo, he conceived the idea of “pitting one muscle against another.” This system was later dubbed “Dynamic-Tension” and turned him into an 180-pound man who was able to pull a 72 ton locomotive 112 feet along the tracks. He was given the nickname “Charles Atlas,” after the statue of Atlas on top of a hotel in Coney Island, New York. He became the strongman in the Coney Island Circus Side Show.

Atlas's advertising became iconic, presenting a scenario in which a boy is threatened on the beach by a sand-kicking bully while his date watches. Humiliated, he goes home and subscribes to Atlas' "Dynamic-Tension" program. Later, the the boy, now muscular, goes to the beach again and beats up the bully.

Charles Atlas was a naturalized U.S. citizen.


About The Author

Kevin R. Johnson is currently Dean, Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies, and the Mabie-Apallas Public Interest Law Chair holder at the University of California at Davis. He is also one of the editors of ImmigrationProf Blog.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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