Joseph L. Greenstein, aka The Mighty Atom

by Dennis Mitchell

This photo of Joseph Greenstein, aka The Mighty Atom, was prominently displayed on the stage at York Barbell during the York Barbell Hall of Fame induction of The Mighty Atom.

In 1893 in the village of Suvalk, Poland, Joseph Greenstein was born.  He was born prematurely and was not expected to live more than a few hours. Somehow he did survive, however,  his childhood was a battle of various illnesses.  At the age of fourteen he had tuberculosis, and his parents were told that he would not survive.  Once again he proved the doctors wrong.  His life changed when he was caught sneaking into a circus to see a strongman called “Champion Volanco”.  The stagehand who caught him was in the proses of beating him up when “Champion Volanco” came to his rescue.  Volanco took a liking to Joseph and over the next eighteen months the two of them traveled with the Issakev Brothers Circus where Joseph learned how to develop and strengthen his body.  He changed so much that when he returned home his family didn’t recognize him.

With in the next few years Joseph got married and started wrestling under the name of “kid Greenstein”.  With anti-semitism on the rise in Europe, Joseph and his wife, Leah, left for America. This was sometime in 1914.  They settled in Galveston, Texas where he worked on the docks.  Another life changing event occurred at this time when a man who was obsessed with Leah tried to kill Joseph by shooting him.  The bullet hit him in his forehead, but instead of killing him, flattened out and fell to the ground.  Somehow, according to Joseph, this awakened his mental powers, and by focusing his mind he was able to do amazing strength feats.  This started his career as a strong man.

He was billed as The Mighty Atom because of his small size.  At 5′5″ he weighed 140 pounds.  He could drive nails through a board with his bare hands. He would lie on a bed of nails while supporting as many as fourteen men.  He would bend iron bars with his hand or with his teeth.  He could bite through chains, nails and coins, and lift weights and pull cars with his hair.  Along with his strongman act,  The Mighty Atom would give lectures on exercise, clean living, and diet.  It was while performing in Gilbertsville, PA that he met Lawrence “Slim” Farman.  Shortly after this meeting, The Mighty Atom became Slims mentor.  Later Slim was known as Slim the Hammer Man.  However, this is a story for another article.  Along with performing and lecturing, Joseph wrote several books.  He was written about several times in Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and in 1976 was in the Guinness book of World Records.  Both he and Slim the Hammer Man were honored at York Barbell on May 21, 2011 by being inducted into the York Barbell Hall of Fame.

The Mighty Atom was still performing into his 80’s.  He passed away on October 8, 1977 in Brooklyn New York.