Mighty Atom

“the legend of the ‘Mighty Atom’ lives on in the form of Slim “The Hammer Man.”


By Vic Boff

Sunday, September 15th, 1979. That’s a day that I shall always remember.

The nation’s attention was being focused on New York City. “New York is Book Country” was the great motto and title for that beautiful sunny fall day. The World famed Fifth Avenue from 57th to 47th Streets was closed to traffic as thousands of enthusiastic book seekers came to browse and search for their prepublications and potential best sellers along that elegant swatch of thoroughfare featuring 172 outdoor kiosks or booths.

The big book of the day was proudly presented by the Viking press prior to it’s national release. “The Mighty Atom” made its New York debut at this major cultural event.

The author, Ed Spielman, famed screenwriter and the creator of the Emmy Award winning Kung Fu Television Series, assisted by Slim “The Hammer Man” Farman, the Atom’s heir as the last of the great strongmen, treated the thousands of folks present to a super strongman show they would witness only once in a lifetime.

On a stage on East 52nd Street between Fifth and Madison, which had been cordoned off to traffic, Ed Spielman narrated with eloquence and drama the day’s Historical Strongman Show. For forty-five minutes, Slim “The Hammer Man” Farman gave one of the most amazing demonstrations of feats of Strength seldom seen in modern times.

He exploded heavy steel chains with his hands and chest expansion, crushed shiny crowbar sized steel bars, drove spikes through two inch thick pine lumber with a swipe of his hand, broke his own world record in the leverage or hammer lift, bent a four foot long half inch thick steel bar over the bridge of his nose and all through the show, he bent over two hundred 6 inch 1/4 inch thick nails the difficult way, starting at shoulder level, and then bending downwards.

The silence was golden. Such a physical demonstration of power this audience appreciated and applauded as they sensed the realization of this man “Slim’s” physical and mental powers. A genuine strongman, thrilling and truly magnificent, as he performed one great feat after another.

The last of the Great Strongmen (The Mighty Atom) returned in the person of Slim “The Hammer Man” Farman.

Since the passing of the “Mighty Atom” in 1977, his protege Lawrence Slim “The Hammer Man” Farman and biographer Ed Spielman have teamed up to keep his memory and his teachings alive. “So,” as one newspaper writer put it, “the legend of the ‘Mighty Atom’ lives on in the form of Slim “The Hammer Man.”

The older readers need no introduction to this amazing man. For those enthusiasts not so informed, I quote from the “Super Athletes” by David P. Willoughby, an international authority, writer and investigator in the field of physical strength and development, “Joe Greenstein (64 inches, 140 lbs.), of the Bronx, New York, was a sideshow and carnival strongman known as “The Mighty Atom.” He also appeared in vaudeville, both in Europe and the United States, over a period of about 20 years. He was still able to perform many of his feats when past 80 years of age.

He could ‘break’ by chest expansion as many as three chains placed together, of a size designated as No. 8 or No. 10 jack chain. This consisted of S-shaped links of the type that could be parted rather than broken. Greenstein could also bend an iron bar or a horseshoe with his teeth while one end of the bar was fixed (as in a vise.) The bar that he used for this purpose was usually one of 1/2 inch mild cold-rolled steel, 8 or 9 inches long. This size of bar he could also bend into a U shape with his hands. But Greenstein’s most extraordinary and spectacular feat far transcended these chain breaking and bar-bending exhibitions. He could bite a nail in half! That he actually possessed the ability to do this he demonstrated on many different occasions. On one of these, about 1934, when he was 53 years of age, Greenstein walked into the well frequented New York gymnasium operated by Siegmund Klein and before the incredulous stares of Klein and about a dozen of his pupils who were working-out in the gym at the time, proceeded to bite in two a 20 penny nail that Klein, after satisfying himself that it was a strong and sound one-supplied. Klein’s description of the act was as follows: ‘Greenstein placed the nail in his mouth, clamping it between his molars and holding onto the head of the nail with his fingers. Then with tremendous pressure he bit into the nail, and one could hear the teeth crunching as though they were being ground. He then turned the nail a little and bit again. On the last bite he just bent the nail slightly-and presto, it was in half! . . . all of us checked his teeth to see that there were no special mouth pieces or caps over his teeth.’ Greenstein was capable also of performing with a 25-cent coin the same feat of biting and breaking.”

During World War II, Mr. Greenstein unselfishly gave his time to Uncle Sam’s Bond Drive. This modern day Samson did not only lecture but demonstrated the strength of his hair by pulling a truck loaded with passengers, and in this way he sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bonds for Uncle Sam.

It is a fact that this modern Samson’s hair was so strong it could not be pulled out. One of the most astounding feats of strength ever seen was headlined by the Buffalo (New York) Evening Times on September 29th, 1928: “Mighty Atom — Super Strong Man Pits Brawn Against Plane, Wins.” At the Buffalo Airport before a large crowd of stunned witnesses, this human dynamo held his ground when the pilot increased the plane speed from 800 rpm for an approximate speed of 30 miles per hour to a speed of 1,600 rpm for a speed of 60 miles per hour. Without a doubt, the Atom was the strongest haired man in the world. “Believe It or Not” by Ripley had featured this superman many times over the years.

To get back to his patriotism during World War II, The “Mighty Atom” helped, without any compensation, to recruit men for New York City’s diminishing Police Force. He toured the city for two years giving demonstrations of jujitsu, judo, etc., to interest men in joining the civilian Police Force. He was highly commended by the Mayor and other officials of New York City.

The Atom’s years of experience as a wrestler and strongman in his early days made a superior man of him, mentally as well as physically. I shall never forget way back in 1936, when six giant longshoremen became disorderly and tried to interfere with one of his associates who was lecturing. “The Atom,” after a dramatic fight, put all six men in the hospital. Many of the New York papers carried a front page story entitled “Little Giant Knocks Out Six” The story read, “He weighs but 148 pounds, and is only 5’4 1/2” tall. No wonder writers have termed The Mighty Atom as “The World’s Biggest Little Man.”

The “Mighty Atom” performed all of his feats until the end of his life. A man who broke the time barrier with strength into the age of impossibility. In 1977, then well into his eighties, he performed a Martial Arts Show in Madison Square Gardens giving one of the most awesome exhibitions of strength performance that stunned thousands of sport fans present. He received a standing ovation.

The “Atom” was featured several times in the “Believe It or Not” cartoons and the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records. Over the years top Government officials awarded him the Keys to 20 American Cities. He lectured and inspired thousands to better health and strength.

Writers have often titled him as “The World’s Biggest Little Man,” “The World’s Strongest Haired Man.” A man whose hair could hold back roaring airplanes. He once was shot between the eyes with a .38 – 40 caliber revolver — he walked out of the hospital the same day.

All this was more amazing because he only measured five foot, four inches tall and weighed in at 145 pounds.

Though these strange as it seems incidents sound like the creation of a fiction writer, they are but a few of the incredible but true documented facts in Ed Spielman’s book “The Mighty Atom, Biography of A Superhuman, The Life and Times of Joseph L. Greenstein.”

On October 8th, 1977 another great chapter in the history of the Iron Game concluded with the passing of Joe Greenstein “The Mighty Atom.” His shining star will be forever in the history of the Iron Game.

The Life and Times of
Joesph L. Greenstein