Siegmund Breitbart: The Iron King

Now that we add the name of Siegmund Breitbart (1883-1925) beside those of Sandow and The Mighty Atom, it emerges that Jewish strongmen were palpably a thing. Some have speculated that Breitbart inspired Joe Shuster in the creation of Superman.

Born to a family of blacksmiths in Łódź, Breitbart built an act around the iron materials he worked with: he tore horse shoes in half, pulled chains apart, and bent iron bars. He let other strong men break stones with sledgehammers on his chest. Sometimes billed as Zishe or Sische Breitbart, he toured Europe and America with Circus Busch, and also played vaudeville and music halls. Over time his act became elaborate and spectacular. He supported automobiles and elephants atop his chest, and pulled wagons full of people with his teeth. Like many in his field, he was appropriately entrepreneurial. He wrote books and sold a body-building course. He starred in a 1923 Austrian film called The Iron King.

In 1925 Breitbart was performing a stunt where he drive an iron spike through a thick wooden plank with his fist. He miscalculated the force and the spike went into his leg. Shortly afterward the wound became infected. He waited too long to see a doctor. Both legs were amputated, but it was too late. Eight weeks later, Breitbart was dead.

Werner Herzog pays Breitbart tribute in his 2001 film Invincible.

For more on circus and vaudeville, where Siegmund Breitbart performed, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.and for more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube