For the vast majority of you, Henry "Milo" Steinborn is (erroneously) the inventor of the squat. As I've mentioned in my weight lifting history "There Is Nothing New Under The Sun" series, however, that's absolutely not the case- the barbell squat has been around in the fashion Milo Steinborn did them since the middle of the 19th Century. "What fashion?", the less well educated and sadly confused among you might be asking. This fashion:
Having cleared that up, Henry Steinborn might not have invented the squat style subsequently named after him, but he was definitely the greatest of all time at it. Lacking a rack out of which to squat, Steinborn loaded up a barbell with 553 lbs, up-ended it, dropped that quarter ton onto his back at the bottom of a squat, and powered out of the hole with it. No person before him had ever come close to that record, and it's only been in the last decade or so that anyone has done so since (IAWA World Records). Steinborn was so far out ahead of his peers in the squat that at one point the richest man in the world at the time, Jean Paul Getty, took notice of Steinborn and ended up paying him a considerable sum when Steinborn busted out 33 reps with 315 at a bodyweight of 205, presumably after betting him that Steinborn couldn't break 30 reps with 315 (Strossen 5).
Before you turn into a smug little Dennis Miller impersonator and start blabbering an esoteric list of relatively unknown people who can do that off the top of your head, bear in mind that Steinborn did them from the floor, and he was the world's first squat specialist. Well, that's not entirely accurate- Steinborn was an all around badass who made lifting historian David Willoughby shudder and spontaneously climax when Steinborn's name was mentioned- he just also happened to be the world's greatest squatter at a time when the squat was about as well known and understood as electrical light. According to Willoughby, Henry "Milo" Steinborn was a super athlete who "manifestly possessed the requisite combination of strength, speed, agility, and endurance" to be considered one of the greatest lifters of all time, (Strossen 5) and whose awesomeness exceeded so far beyond the limits of human comprehension that the man correctly predicted the year of his own death decades before he died (Orlando Sentinel).
Henry Steinborn's Stats
Weight: 205 lbs.
One Hand Snatch: 218 lbs.
Two Hand Snatch: 247 lbs.
Clean and Jerk: 375 lbs.
Squat: 553 lbs.
Strict Curl: 175 lbs. x 5 reps
One Hand Jerk: 255 lbs.
Looking at the numbers above, you might be thinking, "So? Who givers a shit? Plenty of 200 lbers can move those weights." Indeed, they can. Using today's rankings, Steinborn would only be ranked 110th in the world at 198 lbs... but that fails to take into account that the Berg barbell had only been existence for a short time and was hardly the finely lubed, smoothly rotating, springy-steeled wonder of engineering with which modern lifts are completed. Additionally, Steinborn wasn't an Olympic weightlifting specialist, and he put up those numbers when the lifting world was still trying to figure out what in the hell Olympic weightlifting was. Put more strongly- Steinborn and behmouth Louis Cyr went back and forth taking the world record in the clean and jerk until Steinborn accidentally clean and jerked 375 (he'd asked for 350 and the bar was misloaded to 375). At that point, Louis Cyr was considered untouchable in strength sports, and he's still considered by many as the greatest strongman of all time. Steinborn beat the man badly by accident- he wasn't even really trying.
The closest thing the world will ever see to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: From left to right, Henry "Milo" Steinborn, Olympic weightlifter John Terpak, Mr. America and former world record holder in weightlifting Steve Stanko. badass heavyweight champion boxer and wrestler Primo Carnera, first man to win world championships in three different weightclasses and Olympic gold medalist Stan Stanczyk, and weightlifting and bodybuilding legend John Grimek at the York Weightlifting Club. Steinborn and Carnera were passing through to go to a wrestling match in Baltimore and decided to hang out with Hoffman's guys for a bit.
While that was not an official record (Steinborn was a professional strongman and was ineligible for the Olympics), no one on Earth at his weight came close to a 375 clean and jerk for nearly half a century, and it was only super heavies who could get more weight overhead in any fashion for decades. If Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Barry Sanders, Jim Thorpe, and Mariusz Pudzianoski all threw their cum into a blender and created a delicious, frothy milkshake of elite man goo to pour into a heavily sedated Ronda Rousey, the kid they produced would not be as dominant in any sport as Steinborn was in lifting in the first half of the 20th Century. 350+ lb Karl Swoboda was capable of continental and jerking 401 lbs, and Paul Anderson managed to put 400 overhead in a clean and jerk weighing even more than his fat German counterpart, but it wasn't until John Davis hit 390 lbs in 1948 that anyone in Steinborn's relative weightclass was able to best the German superman in the clean and jerk.
Steinborn lifting at Hermann's Gym, the site of which interestingly enough, is only two blocks from my brother's cupcake shop.
As incredibly awesome as that sounds, Steinborn realized that earning money that was worth less than the paper on which is was printed was pointless, so after coming in second to 5'2" 220 lb Karl Moerke in the German National Championships in 1920, he stowed away on a ship to the US and applied for citizenship as an economic refugee (Ibid). By 1921 Steinborn's name was already well known in the US, as Steinborn had broken three world records in front of Alan Calvert at Hermann's Gym in Philidelphia (Orlando Sentinel, Klein). After an intervention by Arthur Saxon, who convinced Steinborn there was no real money to be made in exhibition lifting, he adopted the nickname Milo (because of his affiliation with Calvert and the Milo Barbell Company), and proceeded to wrestle in over 300 ultra-violent catch style matches in every corner of the world from 1922 to 1953.
That elephant appears to be the opposite of psyched.
Steinborn wasn't done blowing off faces with nightly displays of weightlifting awesome, however- apparently snapping limbs every night wasn't enough of a challenge for this Teutonic Destroyer Of Hopes, Dreams, and Limbs. Under contract for Pepsi in the 1940s, Steinborn had to squat at least 400 lbs at every performance, and Steinborn often participated in what has been described as "one of the most lethal fighting arts the world has ever known" twice a day... when he was over the age of 50 (Strossen 7). At the 1950 World's Fair, Milo backlifted an 800 lb elephant while wearing a suit (at age 57), and busted out another 400 lb squat for an audience when he was 70 (Strossen 8). All of this is even more incredible considering Steinborn had his had and legs crushed when his famous leg bridge feat, in which 5000 lbs of car and people traversed a bridge Steinborn held up with his legs, went horribly awry in 1926 (Boff). Exactly 0 fucks were given and no excuses made, and the dude who had been squashed 60 years prior was still squatting 300 into his 80s (Ibid).
Milo weighed around 170 when he was 92. Here, he's in his 80s and looking better than 3/4 of the people in any gym you visit.
I think at this point, we all understand- Henry "Milo" Steinborn was indeed one of the greatest strength athletes, and without a doubt one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever live. To what, then, can we credit his badassery?
- he started out as a gymnast. Due to his background in gymnastics, Steinborn had great flexibility, body control, and balance. This ingrained the necessity for good form, so conscious thought was unnecessary while lifting (Strossen 8).
- he was concerned with overall health. Steinborn sunbathed regularly, took a lot of long walks, and ate a ton of protein (Strossen 8-9)
- he was obsessive about training through a full range of motion, and abhored cheating on any movement (Strossen 9)
- he wasn't a disgusting fatass- Steinborn showed the world that muscular "development, speed, and technique" are what makes good lifters, rather than massive bulk and retard strength (Strossen 7).
"Before he did any heavy lifting he did some stretching exercises. He had an exercise stick that he used for stretching and calisthenics. He did dislocates on the rings. He could do giant swings [on a high bar]" (Strossen 8).Lifting, then, generally consisted of the quick lifts- one arm snatches and clean and jerks, then the two hand lifts (Strossen 9). The one exercise he always did was, of course, the "squat- it was the foundation, whether he could do any overhead lifting or things like that. The squat was like the fountain of youth- he could keep going back there and rejuvenate himself" (Strossen 7-8).
"Shortly after that we had gone to dinner and I witnessed his method of eating. On this occasion he had eaten boiled onions and steak. He had bolted it down in a tiny fraction of the time I required to consume my own dinner. As I watched him swallow his food in great chunks I thought, what is this? I had always read that strong men were deliberate eaters. They chewed their food well, keeping it in their mouths as long as they could while reducing it to the smallest possible particles. But here was something new. I didn’t ask Steinborn about it because I had only met him and did not feel that I knew him well enough to interrogate him concerning his eating habits.
A few minutes later we were walking down the street and I noticed his jaws moving methodically. “What are you chewing, Mr. Steinborn?” I asked. “A piece of steak,” was his reply. I wondered where he got the steak, could he have a rubber pocket in his coat and have slipped part of his dinner in there? Then Steinborn said, “It’s a gift I have to be able to eat hurriedly and then bring the food up for more thorough chewing. Do you want to see me bring up the onion?” He showed me that his mouth was empty and then almost immediately a big, white onion popped into view. He chewed this carefully and swallowed again. “Now do you want to see a piece of steak?” and then he brought up another piece of steak" (Schmidt).
Second from left next to the human the man with the impossibly skinny-fat arms, Karl Moerke. Presumably, this was taken after the 1920 German National Weightlifting Championships in which Steinborn took second.
Bob Hoffman, who was then the coach and sponsor of the US Olympic Weightlifting team, apparently stated in his book Better Nutrition that "Steinborn swallowed 24 hard-boiled eggs, bringing them back up one at a time for thorough mastication" (Ibid). In yet another account, Alan Calvert claimed Steinborn could bring up individual pieces of lettuce from a salad at will (Ibid). Yes, I know it sounds insane, but "washing out his stomach", as Steinborn referred to it, ensured healthy digestion and good overall health (Ibid). Whether or not it did so, it is certainly further proof of Steinborn's badassery.
The feat of strength that nearly killed him when he was 29.
So, there you have it- Steinborn could outsquat everyone on the planet, kicked ass at the Olympic lifts in spite of only having a few years of practice at them in a POW camp, was a prolific and dominant wrestler, and had control over his digestive tract the likes of which the world has never seen. Not only that, but the man had longevity- he was still asking people to jump off of tables onto his ripped six pack at age 92 (Boff), three years before he died the exact year he'd predicted and had carved onto two watches at the ripe old age of 95. Not bad for an illegal immigrant prisoner of war, eh?
As hard as I try not to use oldtimestrongman.com images, this one was unavoidable. Apparently no one wanted to photograph Moerke's disgusting fatbody.
A random aside:
While Steinborn gets credit for being one of the sickest squatters of all time, and he is, the aforementioned real life troll doll Karl Moerke deserves some notice. Though shaped like a trashcan at 5'2" 220 lbs, Moerke was an unequivocal lifting badass. He "bounce squatted" 650 lbs, which apparently meant he cut the lift short but did it otherwise in the same fashion as Steinborn... making him ostensibly the better squatter, Facebook comments regarding depth notwithstanding. He also represented in Olympic weightlifting, rocking the following lifts:
- Right hand snatch 187 lbs
- Right hand continental jerk 248 lbs
- Two hands snatch 231 pounds lbs
- Two hands military press 265 lbs
- Two hands continental push 308 lbs
- Two hands continental jerk 386 lbs
- Squat (bounce style) 650 lbs
- Dead lift 650 lbs
Boff, Vic. Reminiscing about Henry "Milo" Steinborn. Iron Game History. Web. 18 Aug 2014. http://www.bobwhelan.com/history/steinborn.htm
Grimek, John. Unforgettable Moments. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 7 Dec 2008. Web. 19 Aug 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/12/unforgetable-moments-john-grimek.html
Henry 'Milo' Steinborn, 95, Weightlifter, Promoter. Obituaries. Orland Sentinel. 11 Feb 1989. Web. 18 Aug 2014. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1989-02-11/news/8902110537_1_steinborn-milo-weightlifter
Klein, Sigmund. My Quarter Century in the Iron Game – Chapter Three. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 7 Feb 2009. Web. 19 Aug 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/02/sig-klein-chapter-three.html
Schmidt, Bob. Henry Steinborn. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 21 Mar 2009. Web. 19 Aug 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/03/henry-steinborn-bob-schmidt.html
Willoughby, David P. Karl Moerke. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 8 Aug 2008. Web. 19 Aug 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/08/karl-moerke-david-p-willoughby.html