Ten-year old Angelo Siciliano arrived at Ellis Island, an immigrant for Italy in 1903. He was a small weak spindly child and endured his youth being picked on and beaten up by bullies.
Angelo was a seventeen year old "97 pound weakling" when he paid a visit to New York's Prospect Park Zoo. He was fascinated by the lions and spent hours watching them stretching their muscles. Angelo concluded that the lions built strength by "pitting one muscle against another."
He developed a workout regimen to strengthen his muscles with isometric and isotonic exercises that did not require equipment and weights.
A statue of Hercules at the Brooklyn Museum inspired him to faithfully keep up his workout program.
Angelo gradually started growing into the image of his hero. He developed a 47 inch chest and 32 inch waist. He became a body builder and a model for sculptors. Angelo changed his name to Charles Atlas.
He entered a body building competition at Madison Square Garden in 1921 and won. He was proclaimed "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man." He won the contest again in 1922. The promoter permanently cancelled future contests saying, "What's the use of holding them? Atlas will win every time."
Charles/Angelo�s prize for winning the contest was either a screen test for a Tarzan movie or $1000. He took the cash and started his business selling his fitness program by mail order.
The business didn't take off until he met Charles P. Rowan in 1928. Rowan was an adman who gave Charles Atlas' methods a name-"Dynamic-Tension." He then came up with the ad the company has been running in magazines for over 70 years.
The famous ad was a comic called "Insult that made a man out of Mac." The comic begins with a "98 pound weakling" sitting on the beach with a girl, then he has "sand kicked in his face" by a bully who taunts him saying, �Hey Skinny.�
Mac takes the Charles Atlas course and is transformed into a strongman and becomes �Hero of the beach.�
Charles Atlas and Charles Roman became millionaires almost overnight and the company was doing so well it was unaffected by the stock market crash of 1929.
Charles Atlas became a superstar and was famous for his astounding feats of strength. He pulled a railroad car tied to a rope down a track by himself.
He once saved a rowboat full of people who had lost their oars and were stranded in a storm. He swam a mile out to them, tied a rope around his waist and towed the boat to shore.
From the 1930s to the late 1960s, Charles Atlas appeared in countless magazines, newspapers and news shows.
They sold their "Dynamic-Tension" course to millions of students- mostly teenage boys who were in a similar situation to young Angelo and the ad�s �98 pound weakling� character.
Charles Atlas died in 1972. He sold his share of the company to Charles Roman in 1969. Charles Roman sold the company to Jeffrey Hogue, an intellectual property lawyer, in 1997. Hogue had ordered the Charles Atlas course when he was 15 years old, away at military school and too weak to physically keep up.
Hogue wrote to Charles Roman on a whim, asking if he might want to sell the company. They became friends until Roman died in 1999.
Charles Atlas was selected by Forbes Magazine as one of the century's super salesmen. The Times Sunday Magazine named him one of the most influential people of the twentieth century, as founding father of modern day body building and fitness.
He became a topic in a double-meaning song from the cult film and Broadway play "Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Charles Atlas still receives letters everyday, some 30 years after his death, thanking him and detailing their physical transformations by using his course.
Jerry Hogue says that they make no attempt to deceive customers about Charles Atlas's demise. "But people need and want to believe in Mr. Atlas. He really is still with us."