MILO FROM CROTON TO STEINBORN.
By David Gentle.
Wrestling, one of the most ancient early activities known to man has had over its history many famous champions, but none more so than the 6th century wrestler Milo from the Greek colony of Croton in Southern Italy. He won the wrestling contests at five successive Olympic Games. HIS FIRST IN 540BC easily outclassing his rivals. He went on to become champion of champions, as well as the Olympic titles, he won the Isthmian Games ten times and the Pythian Games six times.
He claimed he built his strength by gradual progressive resistance, the basis of all physical training, by lifting a calf onto his shoulders and carrying it every day from its birth until fully grown. One feat of strength allotted to him is the story he carried four heifers combined weight the length of the Olympic stadium estimated weight 900lbs.
Popular legend has it that he carried a live ox upon his shoulders through the stadium at Olympia, killed it with a mighty blow to the head, and then ate it all in a single day (that’s some beef burger). Wrestling was first introduced into the Olympic Games in 704 BC (18th Olympiad) with “All in coming later in 648BC with only biting and gouging prohibited. He also fought with the Croton army doing dangerous work with a massive club he carried. Sadly Milo came to a tragic end, tradition has it that in old age, whilst trying to hold apart two halves of a giant split tree trunk he had his hands trapped in a vice like grip, couldn’t escape and was later devoured by wolves. Not all historians however believe this story, rather thinking that Milo was slaughtered by assassins when he chose to take up politics.
In the year 1894 when Louis Lumiere invented the cinematograph and the gramophone disc went horizontal instead of being a cylinder and when Baron de Couberton founded the committee to organise modern Olympic Games another famous “Milo” was born in Siegburg Germany. His name, Henry Steinborn.
Henry or to some Harry Steinborn was born and grew up near Dusseldorf and during WW1, 1914-1918, he fell into British captivity to be interned in New South Wales, Australia and where he used his time positively by taking up training with weights, a popular sport in Germany. Although they had some “real weights” most of their equipment was basic self built using concrete and an assortment of iron bars. His diet, better than most prisoners, consisted mainly of mutton, with which he managed to maintain good health and still gain strength despite his captivity.
During this early period he managed such lifts as One arm clean and jerk 240lbs, one arm snatch 220lbs and a two arm clean of 275lbs. with the cessation of the war, Steinborn was released in 1919 and returned to Germany. Two years later he emigrated to the United States of America and held his premier strong man show in Philadephia. (P.A.) On October 19th 1921 at Hermann’s Gymnasium in P.A he performed several record lifts judged by famous experts like Alan Calvert( who’s company was by co incidence or design named MILO) and George Zottman. (famous for his version of the curl exercise.)These included a two hands snatch of 247lbs, two hands clean and jerk 347 and ¾ lbs and right hand snatch of 205 and half pounds. If you consider that this was in early times before the popularity of the squat, he also made six full squats with 402lbs after lifting the barbell onto his shoulders unassisted by tipping the bar up one end and ducking underneath to prepare for the squat. No squat racks in those days. In his twilight years it’s reported he still squatted with 300lbs for reps in his 80s.
Henry is probably responsible for the popularity of the squat as a feat of strength and an exercise. In New York in 1921 he did a squat with 550lbs at a bodyweight of just 210lbs, he also made a single leg squat with 192lbs, maybe not so great now with modern lifters using lifting suits and taking “nutritional aids” but back then it was an amazing feat of power. Later Sig Klein describes how he witnessed Milo lift an original Louis Cyr sphere barbell with a thick bar weighing exactly 188lbs to a front clean, and then holding the huge barbell at his chest, took one foot off the floor and arise perfectly in a single leg squat with the enormous weight.
History was of course to go on to make far more amazing lifting records over the years and detailed in many later published strong man magazines, books and periodicals. The famous authority Earle Liederman writing in Joe Weider’s Muscle Power magazine circa 1948 tells of witnessing Milo “Take a large barbell weighing 550lbs,rest it upon one end, then lean under it so as to get it across his shoulders and then do five full squats in rapid succession.” Earle also says Milo made 33 reps with 350lbs in the squat, did a one arm snatch of 208lbs, military pressed 265lbs, and one arm clean and jerk with 250lbs. Later Steinborn was to use his leg strength to good effect in his strong man act when in one stunt in L.A , he acted as a human pillar for one end of a bridge that held a huge old fashioned automobile, full of passengers reported to weigh 5,000lbs, although this poundage cannot be verified. Sadly this particular feat of strength was to be his downfall when on 7th March 1926 whilst holding up the “bridge” for the car, something went wrong, he lost control and it resulted in a serious injury requiring surgery and putting paid to his strong man career making a change in direction to professional wrestling, although he continued to squat most nights with 400lbs or more whilst working as a wrestler. He was then in the golden years of wrestling amongst names like Charles Rigulot, Frank Gotch and Farmer Burns. Back to the weight training, in fact it was Steinborn who made squats with heavy weights popular for both lifters and bodybuilders as before his period, most squats or deep knee bends were usually done with light weights in Indian style and high repetitions.
With his superior strength and skills he became a very successful wrestler becoming internationally famous taking on both famous strong men like world champ Charles Rigoulot and all the top wrestlers. Henry estimates he had at least 300 matches over a long span. Widely travelled, he also had many influential friends including world’s richest man Paul Getty. In the .40s he went on a wrestling tour sponsored by Pepsi Cola, always demonstrating the squat.
By 1950 at the Chicago World Fair circus, Steinborn then 56 years old watched as four middle weight lifters were asked to attempt use their combined strength at lift an 800lb elephant. Whilst they were still deciding just how to tackle the task requested, Milo fully dressed in sport coat and trousers with his fashionable Oxford shoes, crouched beneath the baby elephant and with just the first attempt lifted the terrified animal clear of the ground, the incident captured on camera for posterity and published in many magazines of the period. He then weighed 210lbs at 5ft 8ins, with a powerful chest and 26 and half inch thighs. Liederman said “measurements don’t do him justice. You had to see him to appreciate him”.
When he was 64 years old he opened a gym in Orlando which was very successful for the next eleven years. He also promoted wrestling for a similar period, (for example he managed Primo Carnera), before his retirement in 1978 keeping an interest in both lifting and wrestling right up until his death on February 9th 1989 at the grand age of 95 years. His son Henry junior carries on the Milo tradition with the gym and wrestling. His other son Dick is also a good wrestler. Milo also left behind 7 grandchildren.
By David Gentle © 2015,)
References include. Joe Weider’s October 1948 issue of Muscle Power, Boxing and Wrestling magazine, Randy Strossens’ MILO magazine, issue one.(best for detailed lifts and poundages) Health and Strength, Earle Liederman, in various articles and gossip columns, Pictorial History of wrestling by Graeme Kent for early Milo of Croton information, Sig Klein’s memoirs, David Willoughby in “Super Athletes” and the late Vic Boff.