Siegmund "Zishe" Breitbart: The Iron King

Siegmund “Zishe” Breitbart: The Iron King

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with circus hall strongmen.

Luckily for me (and the integrity of my sphincter) this hasn’t manifested into some kind of warped homosexual fetish in later life, rather a passion for lifting weights.

But whereas picking up heavy bars from the ground is immensely satisfying, it just doesn’t have quite the same mystique as pulling an aeroplane with your hair or snapping horseshoes with your cock.

On an unrelated note, holding ridiculous feats in such high esteem is probably why I (and later the police) were so interested in my uncle Clive, who could play the recorder using five different orifices.

Anyway, when it comes to miraculous feats of strength they don’t come much more impressive than those performed by legendary strongman and Jewish folklore hero Siegmund Breitbart.


Often referred to as the ‘Iron King’, the ‘Jewish Hercules’, or ‘Zishe’ to his Yiddish speaking fans, Breitbart was a Polish-Jewish vaudeville performer who became a global icon in the 1920s thanks to his spectacular strongman show.

His act, which combined phenomenal muscular power with magnetic showmanship and a flair for the theatrical, earned him billing as the ‘Strongest Man on Earth’.

Despite the rising tide of anti-Semitism in postwar Vienna, thousands flocked to see the sensational Breitbart bend iron bars, drive nails through boards with his fist, bite through chains and carry baby elephants up ladders.

So, who exactly was this man who with biceps like bowling balls and a gaze like a remorseless murder suspect?

What were the secrets behind his superhuman strength?

And why was he so ruddy obsessed with baby elephants?

Let’s find out…

Early life

The Iron King was born in the Polish city of Lodz on February 22, 1893 to an impoverished blacksmith and his wife.

Legend has it that Breitbart discovered his phenomenal strength at the tender age of three when he was able to free himself from an array of falling heavy iron objects that trapped him on the floor father’s blacksmith shop (think an Imperial Russian version of Total Wipeout and you’ll get the picture).

As a schoolboy, Breitbart enjoyed displaying his endowment publicly (I’m so immature), often to the detriment of his bruised and battered peers.

After being expelled from a succession of religious schools as a result of this intemperate behaviour, he decided to pursue his dream of being a professional strongman by enrolling in various positions, from a performer in a travelling Yiddish theatre troupe to a circus acrobat.

When the First World War broke out he enlisted in the Russian army and was later captured by the Germans, where he remained after the war, eking out a living as a market performer.

Stage show

Siegmund Zishe BreitbartWhile showcasing his strength at a market in Bremen in 1919, Breitbart was spotted by the director of the Circus Busch (at that time the biggest circus in the world) who immediately appointed the young Pole as his opening act.

The Iron King was an instant hit and soon made the transition to vaudeville theatre, where he attained cult status as a performer in Vienna during the early 1920s.

The German city became engulfed in Breitbart mania, with one reporter announcing that “no-one talks of anything else.”

He became the subject of songs, films, merchandise, and even Christmas cards.

For his vaudeville show, Breitbart would dress up as various archetypal masculine heroes, including a Roman centurion, a bull fighter and a cowboy.

Never one for understatement, Breitbart, while dressed as a centurion, would thunder onto the stage in a chariot pulled by four white horses as two men on horseback announced his arrival with a trumpet fanfare.

Funnily enough, this scene plays out in an eerily similar way to the visual image I conjure up every time I prepare to ejaculate on my girfriend’s tits (thank god she never reads this blog).

Other feats of strength performed by Breitbart in this period included:

  • Having stones broken by sledgehammers on his chest
  • Bending iron bars into floral patterns
  • Biting through iron chains
  • Tearing horseshoes in half
  • Lying on his back and supporting humongous weights, such as an automobile filled with passengers or a parade of elephants.
  • Lifting a baby elephant, climbing a ladder with said elephant, and then holding a locomotive wheel by rope in his teeth while three men were suspended from the wheel (?!)


Breitbart landed in America on August 26, 1923 where he went on to enjoy similar success.

He toured the States billed as ‘The Superman of the Ages’, performing to colossal crowds, including an audience of over 85,000 at the New York Hippodrome.

Breitbart also performed numerous public stunts to promote the show.

On one occasion on November 27, 1923 (see image below), Breitbart pulled a wagon containing 50 people through the streets of Washington DC using his teeth!

Siegmund Zishe Breitbart

When will promoters today realise that this is the kind of public performance we want to see more of, not Rod Stewart pumped full of botox and gyrating like he’s being poked in the balls with a giant cattle prod.

Give me an Eastern European nutter pulling heavy objects through the streets with his teeth any day of the week!

A modern Samson

Breitbart was a poster boy for the Jewish race at a time when anti-Semitism was rife, and he embraced his heritage on-stage, draping himself with the Star of David and proclaiming:

If I see an anti-Semite, I give him fair warning.

If he persists, I break him in half, like a matchstick.

He believed that he was the modern-age Samson, to the extent that he founded a Jewish strength academy with the goal of training up an army to liberate Palestine from British control.

The Iron King even planned to recreate Samson’s feats of strength in Palestine in order to drum up publicity for a worldwide Jewish migration to the ‘new homeland’.

Death and legacy

Before Siegmund was able to realise this dream, he died prematurely in 1925 after a rusty nail that he accidentally drove into his leg during a stage show left him with lead poisoning.

In his last days, he put up a heroic struggle, battling through 10 operations, including two leg amputations, as doctors fought to save his life.

Since his death, Siegmund Breitbart has joined the illustrious ranks of history’s greatest strongmen, where his name is afforded the same respect as the likes of Arthur Saxon, John HoltumEugen Sandow and Louis Cyr.

In his time, the Iron King’s strongman show raised the bar and set a new standard among his peers.

His legend continues to live on in the twenty first century, with tales of his strength still shared across the web, alongside keyboard playing cats and celebrity vaginas.

Breitbart’s life was also fictionalised (quite drastically) in the 2001 Werner Herzog film Invincible, and he remains a Jewish cultural icon, with hundreds of jokes, poems, songs, and collectibles perpetuating his legend.

But perhaps the Iron King’s greatest legacy was secured when a nine-year-old boy in Cleveland witnessed his ‘Superman of the Ages’ strongman show.

This awestruck young boy was one Jerry Siegel, who later went on to appropriate Breitbart’s stage name and godlike strength for the most iconic superhero of all time.

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  1. Henry great article on one of the strongmen of yesteryear. I also agree with your stance on the type of entertainment as well. I’d prefer a strongman competition to Rod Stewart any day of the week.

    Many of the old time strongmen were way ahead of their time influencing movement and tactics involving strength that many strength coaches implement today. These guys were some of the greatest innovators in strength performance.

    Eugene Sandow and the great Paul Anderson (from my hometown of Toccoa, Georgia) were tremendous in their pursuit of being the strongest men on earth and their strategies on training are timeless. It sounds as if our old friend Breitbart falls right under the same umbrella.

    It’s always good to honor the memory of those that brought the art of human performance to us. Thanks for sharing Henry.

  2. …Biting through iron chains…that brings toughness to a whole new level. Nice post 😉

  3. Your article reminded me that I am a related to him & have collected a file about him.

    In my collection are many quotes from all over the world.

    The “piece de resistance” is a 45 typed autobiography (translated into English).

    I thought someone might want to construct a book using some of my material.

    I also have pictures & a copy of his personal scrapbook.

    I live in Tucson, Az.

    1. Hi Alan, drop us an email, we’d like to know more!

    2. Nearly a decade since your post, but I will chime in that apparently I am also related to him…. The spelling of our surname is Brightbard, which was ‘Englishised’ as certain ancestors migrated to the UK (I believe they couldn’t get into the US due to health reasons). My father was Neil, sister Gloria and parents Polly and Maurice. Always very interested to find long-lost relatives.

  4. A true Iron King should have had a beard, just sayin :))

    Nice read!

    1. Not forgetting a handlebar mustache – something sadly lacking in today’s strongmen!