Guide to the Charles Atlas Records
Digitized Content

Collection ID:
Atlas, Charles, 1893-1972
circa 1909-1998
Collection is in English.
Physical Description:
3 Cubic feet
9 boxes, 1 oversize folder
Collection consists primarily of educational, promotional and publicity materials created by Charles Atlas and others for his bodybuilding business.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
This collection consists primarily of educational, promotional and publicity materials created by Charles Atlas and others for his bodybuilding business. There is some information about Atlas's personal life including a biography, newspaper clippings and photographs of him throughout his life and of his family. The materials are useful in understanding health, physical culture, body training and self-esteem issues for males in American society during the first half of the twentieth century.

The collection is divided into four series.
Series 1, Educational Materials, circa 1920s-1998, undated
Series 2, Publicity Materials, 1936-1998, undated
Series 3, Promotional Materials, 1936-1998, undated
Series 4, Photographs, circa 1909-1998, undated

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Charles Atlas was born Angelo Siciliano in 1893 in Italy and immigrated to New York as a young boy with his family. After failing to build up his body using weight-training equipment, he stumbled upon the concept of resistance exercise – pitting one muscle against another to build strength – during a visit to the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, and soon turned himself into a muscular beauty. He got his start in physical culture demonstrating exercise equipment and working as a circus strongman, ripping telephone books in half and performing other feats of strength. He later found work as an artists' model, becoming one of the most sought after models in the country, and was chosen as "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man" in 1922 by Physical Culture magazine.
For the next several years, Atlas tried to capitalize on his title by composing a multi-lesson, mail-order bodybuilding course that emphasized both exercise and clean living, physically and mentally. However, he turned out to be a poor businessperson and did not find much success. It was not until Atlas met advertising man Charles P. Roman in 1928, who named the system "Dynamic-Tension" and came up with the "97-pound weakling" marketing concept for which Atlas remains famous, that the correspondence course began to take off. With Roman as his business partner, Atlas became a ubiquitous presence on the backs of comic books and in the minds of scrawny boys everywhere, promising strength and manliness to all who successfully completed his program. The pair sold the course to millions of students worldwide, many of whom wrote Atlas to thank him for changing their lives. They sold several other products, including vitamins and a ten-volume encyclopedia called the Sexual Education Series. Roman bought out Atlas's half of the business in 1970 and sold Charles Atlas, Ltd., to Jeffrey C. Hogue in 1997. The company continues to operate, selling the Dynamic-Tension course, licensed apparel and other items, and nutritional supplements.

Processing Information
Collection processed by Erin Podolsky, 2005.
Erin Podolsky
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Charles Atlas, Ltd. president Jeffrey C. Hogue donated the collection to the National Museum of American History, Archives Center on April 23, 1998.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Charles Atlas Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Bodybuilding Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Masculinity Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- Black-and-white photoprints -- Silver gelatin -- 19th-20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012