By Osmo Kiiha

Editor of The Iron Master

When weighing 193 pounds (at 68.5 inches) Davis could correctly curl 210 pounds. This, in comparison with his lesser bodyweight, placed him in the same class as Doug Hepburn for "curling efficiency." Hepburn curled 260 lbs. at around 300 lbs. bodyweight.

John Davis performed a right-hand lift of 8 pounds on a Weaver Stick in the Forward Lift style.

John made a correct military press of 295 lbs. for two reps at 200 pounds bodyweight in 1941.

September 25, 1940: John started school at the Lincoln Preparatory School in Philadelphia, PA. He was to go for 2 years to prepare for college. Davis wanted to be a physical education teacher. School was paid by Bob Hoffman. Davis appears on the cover of the May issue of EBONY in 1952, holding a bathing beauty above his head.

Davis makes a statement in May 1952 EBONY magazine, "I will never enter the A.A.U. Mr. America Contest because I believe a negro cannot win."

JET magazine, May 7, 1984, an article about Davis appears in this popular magazine.

Ed. Note: John was partially right about a negro not winning the A.A.U. Mr. America Contest. It was not until 1970 that Chris Dickerson won, becoming the first black A.A.U. Mr. America. However, the IFBB was well ahead of the AAU in this department. Harold Poole, who had previously placed second in 1962 and 1963 at the AAU Mr. America, easily won the IFBB version of the Mr. America in 1964, thus becoming the first black to hold the title of Mr. America.

John had a severe case of haemolytic jaundice acquired in the Pacific wile serving with the Armed Forces. He sometimes had recurring effects of the condition.


John Davis cleaned and jerked the Apollon railroad car wheels, September 13, 1949. Davis succeeded on his fourth public try to lift this unyielding mass of iron.

(Ed. Note) The wheels weighed 366 pounds, diameter of the bar (or axle) was 1.93 inches. The widest diameter of the disc of the wheels is 26 inches. The wheels were frozen, nothing revolved. It was extremely old and rusty and bent just a little, and the axle bent even more after Davis dropped it several times. Previous to his public try, Davis had tried to lift the wheels in private five times. He failed each time.

John used the deadlift grip to lift the wheels (one hand in pronation and the other in supination) for his successful fourth attempt. Davis actually had to release his left hand from the axle during the clean and then reestablish his grip on the bar before it landed on his chest. This was an amazing feat, to say nothing of the strength needed to accomplish it.

I have watched this lift on film numerous times, I have it on 16mm film and on video. After the clean Davis quickly jerked the wheels over his head (looks like he was in a state of dizziness) and held them for the count, before dropping the wheels.

French magazine La Culture Physique (October, 1949) ran an article on the Davis lift. The whole article was hogwash. Whoever wrote it (no author mentioned) was a sourpuss of the first kind.

Here I present the article from La Culture Physique - translated by Heidi Boren.

          "While passing through Paris some American athletes coming home from a world championship weight-lifting contest stopped for a meeting organized by the F.F.P.H. on the 13thof September. During which the American champion Davis was supposed to tackle the famous axle weighing 166 kilos. The only other men to have successfully done this were Apollon and Rigoulot.
          "The next day the press announced that Davis had succeeded with this exploit. A grave error for those who knew and particularly for professor Desbonnet, to whom belonged the axle which Apollon had shouldered and thrown repeatedly during his training in the room reserved for weight training at Lille.
          "The rules for shouldering and throwing are quite formal: The athlete must take the bar and shoulder it in one move in which it cannot touch the chest. And immediately after that he must throw it by extending his arms straight up over his head. This is how Apollon and Rigoulot had previously done this. But, how did Davis with a lot of trouble, and five negative tries at Monmartiose and four in public, manage to succeed to lift over his head this famous axle?
          "First of all he took the bar with one hand over and one hand under which is not permitted by the rules of the F.F.P.H. Also he rested the bar on his chest while he changed hands. His performance then cannot be compared to that of Apollon or Rigoulot. And also after his exploit Davis fell, almost fainted after his unheard of effort he just made. If Apollon had easily accomplished the shouldering and throwing of the axle it had to be because of his size, 1m 90cm tall, 49.5cm shoulder and 53 cm arms.
          "Rigoulot with smaller measurements, 38cm less in height than Apollon and only 48cm in the shoulders, which is still quite respectable. He succeeded because with his strength he added his prodigal reserve of nervous energy which enabled him to lift 100 kilos straight up. A record which has not been beaten to this day. Then an official test at the Wagram room, Rigoulot shouldered and threw the axle correctly, this axle weighted to 172 kilos.
          "So here is the re-established truth and it is a shame that these colleagues didn't have the required knowledge to announce in public an extraordinary performance, that was never really realized."

Now that you have read that article, I would like to make a few comments.

Davis never fainted or fell after the lifting the wheels, he appeared to be dizzy. He did not collapse. The film shows that he recovered within seconds of the lift. Also this bull about him changing his hand on his chest, Davis accomplished that during the clean part. Also all this garbage about the I.W.F. (F.F.P.H.) rules not being adhered to. This was not an official contest nor were the wheels official regulation equipment for Olympic lifting, so none of the official I.W.F. rules would apply. The letter was just a bunch of French sour grapes.

The bottom line is John Davis did lift the wheels, and was probably the second man to accomplish this feat. In my opinion Apollon never lifted the wheels above his head. Rigoulot lifted the wheels after many months of practice. By the way Rigoulot used the squat style to clean the wheels, which was not a legal lift according to the French (F.F.P.H.) rules of the time (of course they always forget these little matters).

Nobert Schemansky was the last man to lift the wheels, will there ever be another man to accomplish this difficult feat, only time will tell.


Iron Nation

Free Training Tips