George Hackenschmidt – The Passing Of A Great Man

The passing of George Hackenschmidt, ‘The Russian Lion’, at the age of 91 ends another chapter of the great days of the early 20th century ‘strong men’.

They were quite fashionable at the beginning of this century and more widely known with their amazing feats of strength than many a top lifter and certainly nearly all top bodybuilders are today.

George Hackenschmidt, who has made his home in Britain for many years, hailed from Russia and I imagine must have come to Britain at the time of the Russian Revolution in or around 1917.

He was most widely known as a wrestler, perhaps the greatest ever, as he was undefeated world champion in the ‘Catch-as-Catch-Can’ style for fourteen years.

But he also caught the imagination as a strongman with his amazing feats, and for his magnificent physique and massive 19 ins. plus neck.

He was the most feared wrestler of his day, yet like many a strong man, he was kind and gentle outside the wrestling arena.

He was a prolific writer and his many books now out of publication are still sought after as collectors’ pieces, but they are hard to come by.

He was a much travelled man and made many lecture tours all over the world, particularly the USA. He was travelling and lecturing right into his eighties.

He never missed the British wrestling championships or our early Universe and Britain shows. In 1948 and 1950, he judged our first N ABBA Universe contests and always attended our annual Universe dinner.

In later years he has led a quiet life and although many admirers sought interviews with him and visited him, he seldom wished to be seen and preferred the peace and quiet of his home in South London, his wife usually seeing the many callers to his house.

He was a great personal friend of the former owner of this journal, W. A. Pullum, himself an old-time strongman, and the Pullum family, and a frequent caller at their house in Camberwell, where I met him several times.

Right into his eighties he retained the looks of a man thirty years younger and I always marvelled at his massive neck and broad shoulders and impeccable carriage. Only trace of his many battles in the wrestling arena was a cauliflower ear.

When the ’48 Olympic Games were on in London, the Press published a picture of him jumping over a 3 ft. rope between two chairs at the age of 72.

With the passing of this great strongman, there are few survivors of this era. I know but one — Edward Ashton (father of Ted, better known now as Durante), who is well into his eighties and still hale and hearty.

Already I have received donations to perpetuate George Hackenschmidt’s name with a suitable trophy or something to remember the glory of this great man.

May he never pass into oblivion as the great Eugen Sandow did.

– Oscar Heidenstam

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