Oscar Matthes  

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Oscar Matthes

From “Mighty Men of Old” Vol. I (n.d.) (Author unknown)

Oscar Matthes

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 “As a rule, twins are not destined to become physical giants or great strong men.  Of the Matthes twins, born in Lawrence, Mass. in 1863, Oscar lived up to the rule and did not become a giant, but he did make himself one of the best-known figures in the World of Iron Men.

Oscar was only four feet, eleven inches tall.  He was very fragile and weak but in him there burned a desire to excel at athletics and become strong as his larger playmates.  Few people knew that the tiny lad was training with weights until he was 19 years of age. There was a strength show at the Lawrence City Hall. Oscar entered it.  The furor he created, the applause he received for his incredible physique, small though it was, and splendid poundages he lifted right then and there decided his life’s profession.  Mattes went on the stage as “The Pocket Hercules” and well deserved that name. 

One of his feature acts was known as the “Living Roman Column”.  In this he seated himself on his partner’s shoulders who held Matthes’ legs against his chest and he would then bend over backwards till his hands touched the floor.  Here he picked up a 125-pound barbell and came again to the upright position, holding the barbell overhead. Oscar weighed only 105 pounds.

Oscar side-pressed 117 lbs.  He could tear a deck of playing cards in halves, then each half again in half.  One time he came across some workmen struggling to up-end a 700-pound cask.  To their utter amazement this tiny prodigy of power stepped in and up-ended the cask with one hand. 

As his fame spread through the strong man’s world, admirers called him the “Miniature Sandow,”.  When the great Sandow was in America, one of the first persons he wanted to see was Matthes, as he seemed peeved that some one should be credited with a physique comparable to his own.  When they met Sandow was greatly amazed at his small rival.  They become staunch friends and the great Sandow often told reporters that he felt highly complimented that people should call Matthes the “Miniature Sandow.” Matthes’ measurements always an inspiration to the small man, were: chest 40”, waist 28”, biceps 14½”, forearm 12” and thigh 21”.  Oscar long ago retired from the stage, moved back to Lawrence and opened a gymnasium.

Today, at the age of 77 years, he is as hale and hearty as any man thirty years younger.  He still lifts weights and his greatest pleasure is instructing young boys in the iron sport. Matthes’ picture was as well known in the Gay Nineties as Grimek’s is today.  No physical culture or strength magazine would be considered complete if an issue passed without a cut of the “Pocket Hercules.”

Matthes always took any remarks about his small stature in the best of humor and Siegmund Klein (who is about 5’ 4”) was quick to take advantage of his affability when at the National Weightlifting Championships in Woonsocket, R.I. in 1938 he asked a photographer to take their picture standing side by side.  “Lord knows,” said Sieg. “this may be the only chance I’ll ever get to tower over another weightlifter.” "

(c)Mighty Men of Old

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