by Bob Whelan

Reprinted with permission of The Dinosaur files

It is my opinion that one of the most underrated of the great Iron Game "old timers" is Professor Louis Attila. Most people are surprised when they hear how much this guy did. He is the forefather of today's strength coaches and personal trainers. I have a huge poster of him in my gym. He was doing this stuff over one hundred years ago and was extremely successful at it. He was a giant in his time. He was born in Karisrue, Germany, in 1844 and lived to the ripe old strongman age of 80. Although he was extremely popular in his day, his fame greatly faded as the decades have passed. This is the opposite of Sandow and others, who seem to get even more popular as time passes. Professor Attila truly belongs in the same elite category as Jowett, Hackenschmidt, Sandow, et al., if you rate him by his achievements.

It is too bad he is frequently overlooked by all but the most knowledgeable enthusiasts. I was talking to Vic Boff recently about Professor Attila. Vic holds him in the highest regard and gave me a lot of the information for this article. Vic stated that, "Professor Attila was one of the greatest men, if not the greatest, in the history of physical culture and the Iron Game. He was like the father of it all." Bob Hoffman stated in "Mighty Men of Old," "the modest Attila deigned to remain in the background, never seeking publicity, for he had built a better mousetrap and the world beat a path to his door. . . . Modern strength athletes owe more to this man than to any other."

Of course he is known as the trainer of Sandow and his name is frequently mentioned for this, but this is not nearly all he did. He did a tremendous amount in his own right even without the Sandow connection. He was the originator of the globe barbell (prior to this only dumbbells were used), the bent press, the Roman chair, the Roman column, and many feats of strength including the art of tearing poker cards. He was also indeed the man who gave young Karl Frederick Mueller a job at his Brussels, Belgium, gym as a janitor. Young Mueller was introduced to training and encouraged to train with weights by "The Professor." Mueller grew at a rapid rate under Attila's coaching, and he convinced young Mueller to change his name to Eugene Sandow. The rest is history. Attila was also the first man to bent press over 200 pounds. In 1894, he opened his famous New York studio. His daughter, Grace, later married Sig Klein and Klein inherited and continued the family operation until the 1970s as the famous Sig Klein's Gym.

In addition to coaching Sandow, he also coached (at some point during their careers) Warren Lincoln Travis, Barker, Barre, Dandurand, Lionel Strongfort, George Rolandow, Louis Cyr, Bobby Pandour, Adolph Nordquest, "Gentleman" Jim Corbett (World Heavyweight Boxing Champion), and others. He was an advisor/consultant to King Edward of England, King Christian of Denmark, King Haakon of Norway, King George of Greece, and Czarina of Russia. Jim Morgan, Baron Rothschild, and Alfred Vanderbilt were just some of the visitors to his studio.

In his day, "The Professor" was one of the most respected men in the Iron Game. He did much more than just "discover" Sandow. Just as Bob Hoffman and Vic Boff stated, we owe a lot to this man, perhaps more than any other, for laying the foundation of Physical Culture.