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Portrait of a Strongman: The Circus Career of Ottley Russell Coulter – Iron Game History – June, 2001

If one were to look for the origins of weightlifting in America, that search would lead directly back to the circuses of the nineteenth century. The circus was the most popular form of mass entertainment during the latter-half of the nineteenth century, and by the 1890s nearly every circus touring the continent had some kind of strength act. Although circus historians have documented the lives of many of the artists who played under the white tops, remarkably little scholarly attention has been paid to the strength performers.2 Articles of a historical nature have been published through the years in a variety of muscle magazines but, except for David Chapman’s Sandow the Magnificent, and the few articles published in Iron Game History, even weightlifting historians haven’t really looked at the circus phenomenon. This article, then, attempts to fill this gap in our understanding of the history of the iron game.