Angelo Siciliano was born in Acri, Calabria, Italy, on October 30, 1892. Eleven years later, he and his family traveled through Ellis Island and settled in Brooklyn, New York. As a young boy, Angelo was often teased and bullied about his small stature. He was inspired by statues of Greek and Roman gods that were housed in his neighborhood museum and also by bodybuilders who performed on Coney Island. During one of his visits to the beach town a group of older boys began to pick on Angelo. They pushed him to the ground and kicked sand in his face. This moment of humiliation changed Angelo as he pledged to bulk up and get revenge.
He began to devise a workout and “on a visit to the Bronx Zoo one day he had an epiphany…watching a lion stretch, he thought to himself, ‘Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers? …And it came over me…He’s been pitting one muscle against another!’” (Smithsonian Magazine). He began to develop his dynamic tension workout program and within months his body had been transformed. In 1921, he won the World’s Most Beautiful Man Contest and in 1922 he legally changed his name to Charles Atlas. That same year he won The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man Award in New York City. The competition was discontinued as the promoter felt that no one could ever beat Charles.
By the 1950s Charles Atlas had built himself a fitness empire. He boasted over one million followers worldwide including Rocky Marciano, Joe DiMaggio, David Prowse, Max Baer, Joe Louis and Robert Ripley. He would respond and write to his fans, pose for pictures when asked, and participated in various promotions (including pulling a 145,000 pound train over 110 feet in Queens, New York). In 1918, he married Margaret Cassano and had two children, Charles Jr. and Diana. On December 23, 1972, Charles passed away from a heart attack. A pioneer in body building and fitness, his legacy and dynamic tension program continue to live on with countless followers practicing his exercises.