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The Kings of Strength

A History of All Strong Men from Ancient Times to Our Own


Edited and Translated by David L. Chapman


Chapman 1 - 3More than a century ago, the barrel-chested strongman clad in leopard skins and Roman sandals and carrying an oversized barbell was a common performer in fairs, circuses and vaudeville theaters.

In 1911, before this phenomenon had disappeared, French gym owner, journalist and athlete Edmond Desbonnet published a colorful history of these mighty performers.

Since he knew and interviewed many of these men (and women), Desbonnet was able to put a human face on the strongmen and strongwomen who made their livings by performing spectacular strength stunts for the entertainment of the public.

Among these were super-strong athlete Louis Uni, known as Apollon; Eugen Sandow, the mighty Adonis of the stage; the great strongwoman Kati Sandwina Brumbach and many others who entertained audiences by lifting barbells, automobiles, horses and even elephants.

Now translated to English and extensively annotated, “The Kings of Strength” records and preserves the biographies of more than 200 strength performers and bodybuilders from ancient times up to the early 1900s.

The book provides a vital contribution to both theatrical and athletic history, while exploring the universal fascination with strength and muscular physiques.

Here are Some of the Legendary Names Found in This Book

  • Carl Abs (The German Oak)
  • Apollon (Louis Uni)
  • Louis Attila (Ludwig Durlacher)
  • Horace Barre (The French Hercules)
  • Batta (Charles Estienne)
  • Hans Beck
  • Blondin
  • Pierre Bonnes (World Champion)
  • Luigi “Milo” Borra (The Cannonball King)
  • Cyclops (Franz Bienkowski)
  • Louis Cyr (Cyprien-Noé Cyr)
  • Hector Decarie
  • Emile Deriaz
  • Maurice Deriaz
  • Lanceston Elliott (Olympic Champion)
  • Paul Fournier
  • Goliath (Karl Westphal)
  • Johann Friedrich Jahn (Father of Gymnastics)
  • August Johnson
  • Henri Joigneret
  • James Walter Kennedy
  • Dr. Vladislav von Krajewski
  • Pierre Krylof (The King of the Kettlebells)
  • George Lurich
  • The Luxembourg Hercules (John Grunn Marx)
  • Louis of Lyon (Louis Thomassin)
  • Florent Marchand
  • Louis the Mechanic
  • Milo of Croton
  • Felice Napoli
  • Ivan Padoubny
  • Charles Poire
  • Paul Pons (The Colossus)
  • The Rasso Trio
  • Charles Rigoulot (Olympic Champion)
  • Eugene Robert
  • G. W. Rolandow (Gottfried Wuthrich)
  • Rossignol-Rollin
  • George Hackenschmidt
  • Charles A. Sampson
  • Eugen Sandow (Friedrich Wilhelm Muller)
  • Sandowe (Irving Montgomery)
  • Katie Sandwina (Katie Brumbach)
  • Arthur Saxon (The Iron Master)
  • The Saxon Trio
  • The Scottish Hercules (William Bankier)
  • George Stanglemeier (The Rasso Trio)
  • Joseph Steinbach (Olympic Champion)
  • Hans Steyrer (The Bavarian Hercules)
  • Lionel Strongfort (Max Unger)
  • The Terrible Left-Hander (Lagneau)
  • Thomas Topham
  • Hippolyte Triat
  • Terrible Turk (Achmed Madrali)
  • Wilhelm Turk (World Champion)
  • Vansart (Charles Vansittart)
  • Vincent (Man of Iron)
  • Emile Voss
  • Vulcana (Kate Roberts)
  • Stanislaus Zbyszko (Stanisław Cyganiewicz)

Here are Some of the Topics Covered in This Book

  • Automobile Stunts
  • Axle Lifts
  • Cannon Stunts
  • Carnival Athletes
  • Circus Athletes
  • Coin Breaking
  • Dynamometer
  • Folies-Bergere
  • Hercules
  • Hippodrome
  • Kings of Wrestling
  • Olympic Games
  • Russia
  • Turkish Athletes
  • Turnverein (German Gymastics)
  • Vienna
  • Weightlifting Club of France

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
Edmond Desbonnet and His Times: An Introduction to The Kings of Strength
A Fascination with Strength: How the French Were Restored to Their Muscles

The Kings of Strength:
A History of All Strong Men from Ancient Times to Our Own


First Part: Physical Strength in Antiquity

Second Part: Physical Strength in the Middle Ages

Third Part: Physical Strength in Modern Times

Fourth Part: Contemporary Athletes of the Nineteenth Century

Fifth Part: Modern Athletes: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The Super Athletes: The Demigods of Athletics

Appendix A: Weightlifting Terms and Metric Conversions
Appendix B: Letter from Edmond Desbonnet to Professor Louis Attila
Chapter Notes
Bibliography of Desbonnet Works
Bibliography of Monographs and Articles

About the Author

David Chapman, a Seattle-based independent scholar, has written many books and articles on physique photography, sport history, gender studies, film and popular culture.

He worked on the translation of Edmond Desbonnet’s massive French history for more than three decades.

Read What These Iron Game Authorities Are Saying About “The Kings of Strength”
by David L. Chapman

“Desbonnet’s The Kings of Strength is an invaluable work, an encyclopaedia for historians interested in physical culture, sport history, gender studies and LGBTQ histories. Covering some of the best-known strength athletes (male and female) of the time, Desbonnet’s work is thoughtful, entertaining and highly informative.”
Conor Heffernan
University of Texas at Austin

“David Chapman’s translation of The Kings of Strength, with his introduction and commentary on its wealth of vital visual material is a ground-breaking and invaluable addition to the growing list of important publications on the male body. One of the first books to internationalise sport, The Kings of Strength gives many insights into French society and history; it inspired a number of artists to reconsider and focus on the male body. This book also contributes to the history of the body and demonstrates how professional athletes marketed themselves, while providing both artists and the medical profession with modern ideals of the ‘perfect’ body—and giving insight into the often-hidden erotics of the male body.”
Anthea Callen
Professor Emeritus, The Australian National University, Canberra

“The first history about feats of strength, and personalities involved in such, were not written in English, but in various European languages, where generally it is agreed such activities began—at least in an organized manner. David Chapman’s translation, coupled with his knowledge of the involved characters, has the potential to change the marketplace, and introduce to many followers of strength, knowledge which has been dormant for over a hundred years. It could become the Rosetta Stone of Strength books.”
Joe Roark
Iron Game Historian

I remember being lucky enough to get my copy of “Les Rois de la Force” (The Kings of Strength) from my old friend and famous New York City gym owner Siegmund Klein, way back in the early 1970s.

Even though it was written in French, I was fascinated by all the information, so much so, that it inspired me to learn French by translating several chapters.

The book was written by French physical culturist and magazine publisher Edmond Desbonnet, who was considered “The Father of French Physical Culture.”

The book is regarded by sports historians and private collectors as one of the most significant books ever published on the history of the Iron Game.

Up until now, it has never been published in an English translation.

Apart from the fact that relatively few copies of the book still exist, what makes the book so valuable is Desbonnet’s personal observations on seeing many of the strongmen and strongwomen perform who are chronicled in the book and the rare and often very early drawings and photographs of these early performers.

This book is now available in English in a Limited Edition!

I still get emails, phone calls, and letters, for publications that have been long out-of-print.

Order NOW, to avoid disappointment!

Yours for greater strength,

Bill Hinbern
Super Strength Training

Order a copy of this 7 x 10, softcover book, with 470 pages and over 240 photos and illustrations, appendices, chapter notes, bibliography, and index! Highly recommended by Iron Game historians and those who love the old time strongmen throughout the world!

The Kings of Strength

A History of All Strong Men from Ancient Times to Our Own

by David L.Chapman

$ 49.95 + S&H

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