Joe Greenstein depicted on a product he sold
January 2, 1893|
|Died||October 8, 1977
New York City, United States
|Cause of death||Cancer|
|Known for||Strongman (strength athlete)|
Life and work
Greenstein was born in Suwałki, Poland in 1893. As a child he suffered from respiratory ailments, and at age 14, a team of doctors predicted he would die from tuberculosis. Around that time, he became acquainted with a Russian circus strongman called "Champion Volanko," who took Greenstein under his wing. Greenstein traveled with Volanko and the Issakoff Brothers Circus for eighteen months, learning the strongman's training regimen. After this, he returned to Poland and married his wife, Leah, and began a career as a wrestler. Due in part to rising anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, he then left for the United States.
Greenstein first went to Galveston, Texas, working as a dockworker and oil field worker. Greenstein wrestled professionally at this time under the alias of "Kid Greenstein." In 1914, a local Texas man who was obsessed with Greenstein's wife shot him between the eyebrows from a distance of 30 feet. Amazingly, Greenstein left the hospital on the same day - the bullet did not enter his skull, but was flattened by the impact. This experience sparked Greenstein's interest in the mental powers associated with strength, and he gradually developed an array of strongman feats.
He was featured five times in Ripley's Believe It Or Not and in the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records. Two of Greenstein's feats included biting through an iron nail and bending iron horseshoes by hand. An iron nail and iron horseshoes are on display at the Weightlifting Hall of Fame in York, Pennsylvania. Later in life he sold coconut oil soaps and health elixirs at fairs and farmers' markets. He traveled in an old Model A truck with panels that opened to show his extensive collection of newsclippings and citations from civic leaders and organizations. NYC Mayor LaGuardia issued a proclamation thanking Greenstein for showing his skills to the NYC police department. Greenstein had volunteered to teach jujutsu techniques to members of the New York City auxiliary police during World War II. It was many years before the technique was known to most Americans.
Greenstein continued performing his strongman feats well into his eighties, giving his last performance at his great-grandchild's first birthday on May 11, 1977 at Madison Square Garden at the age of 84. He dazzled the audience by bending horseshoes and driving spikes through metal with the palm of his hand. He succumbed to cancer five months later on October 8, 1977. The story of his life has been told by Ed Spielman in the book The Mighty Atom. The life story of Greenstein seems to be the inspiration for the fictional character of Al Pratt, a costumed crime-fighter who went by the alias of "The Atom".
Joe's son Mike Greenstein appeared as a 93-year-old on America's Got Talent in 2014 and successfully pulled a 3500-pound car with his teeth. He wore a T-shirt promoting Mighty Atom & Sons (1940).
- Harvin, Al (1974-06-02), "Martial Artists Hold Exhibition Today", New York Times, p. 1
- "Bullet Flattened Out Against His Forehead", Houston Daily Post, p. 8, 1914-10-13
- Boff, Victor (1962), "THE MIGHTY ATOM: HIS PHILOSOPHY OF HEALTH", Natural Strength
- "Mighty Joe Old". New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC: 68. 3 June 1974. ISSN 0028-7369.
- Guinness book of world records, 1976. Sterling Pub. Co. 1975. p. 458. ISBN 978-0-8069-0014-8.
- Spielman, Ed (1998), The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein, Cobb, California: First Glance Books, p. 234, ISBN 978-1-885440-30-3
- "America's Got Talent". Green Bay, Wisconsin. Event occurs at 1:03. NBC. WGBA-TV. Missing or empty