To start off our strength culture series of blogs which will explore the history of lifting and the great athletes of the past, it would be fitting if the very first blog is dedicated to Louis Cyr. Every strength athlete can have nothing but admiration for such a great personality in our field. If you do not know who this great man was, do yourself a favor and read about him.
Louis Cyr (born Cyprien-Noé Cyr, 11 October 1863 – 10 November 1912) was a famous French - Canadian strongman with a career spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His recorded feats, including lifting 500 pounds (227 kg) with one finger and back lifting 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg), show Cyr to be, according to former International Federation of Body Building & Fitness chairman Ben Weider, the strongest man ever to have lived. Cyr was born in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Canada. From the age of twelve Cyr worked in a lumber camp during the winters and on the family’s farm the rest of the year. Discovering his exceptional strength at a very young age, he impressed his fellow workers with his feats of strength. After learning of the tale, Cyr attempted to mimic the practice of legendary strongman Milo of Croton, who as a child carried a calf on his shoulders, continuing to carry it as it grew into a full-grown bull and him into a grown man. Cyr’s calf, however, bolted one day, kicking him in his back, after which he instead began carrying a sack of grain 1/4 mile (0.40 km) every day, adding 2 pounds (0.91 kg) each day
In 1878 the Cyr family immigrated to Lowell, Massachusetts in the United States. It was in Lowell that Cyr changed his name from Cyprien-Noé to Louis, as it was easier to pronounce in English. Again, his great strength brought him fame. At seventeen he weighed 230 pounds (104 kg). He entered his first strongman contest in Boston at age eighteen, lifting a horse off the ground; the fully-grown male horse was placed on a platform with 2 iron bars attached enabling Cyr to obtain a better grip. The horse weighed at least 3/4 short tons (0.68 t).
While several of Cyr’s feats of strength may have been exaggerated over the years, some were documented and remain impressive. These included:
• Lifting a platform on his back holding 18 men for a total of 1976 kg
• Lifting a 534-pound (242 kg) weight with one finger
• Pushing a freight car up an incline
At 19 years old, he lifted a rock from the ground up to his shoulder, officially weighted at 514 pounds.
He beat Eugen Sandow’s bent press record (and therefore the heaviest weight lifted with one hand) by 2 pounds (0.91 kg) to a total of 273 pounds (124 kg). Louis Cyr ready to restrain horses, 1891
Perhaps his greatest feat occurred in 1895 when he was reported to have lifted 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg) on his back in Boston by putting 18 men on a platform and lifting them. One of his most memorable displays of strength occurred in Montreal on October 12, 1891. Louis resisted the pull of four draught horses (two in each hand) as grooms stood cracking their whips to get the horses to pull harder, a feat he again demonstrated in Bytown (now Ottawa) with Queen Victoria’s team of draught horses during her ‘Royal’ visit. While in Bytown (Ottawa) he volunteered with the police when they took deputies to round up a local gang of miscreants; they turned him away claiming he would be too slow due to his bulk. He challenged the regular officers to a foot race, beating the majority, and they took him on.
Monument to Louis Cyr by Robert Pelletier in Place des Hommes-Forts in Montreal He patrolled as a police officer between 1883–1885 in Sainte-Cunégonde, known now as Petite-Bourgogne (Little Burgundy) in Montreal. Both the Parc Louis-Cyr and the Place des Hommes-Forts (“Strongmen’s Square”) are named after him. Statues of him are located at Place des Hommes-Forts and the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City. The high school in his hometown of Napierville is also named after him. At his peak, Louis was 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) in height and weighed 310 pounds (140 kg), with a 21-inch (53 cm) neck, a 54-inch (140 cm) chest, a 45-inch (110 cm) waist, 22-inch (56 cm) biceps, 19-inch (48 cm) forearms, 11-inch (28 cm) wrists, 33-inch (84 cm) thighs, 23-inch (58 cm) calves.
In “The Strongest Man in History”, Ben Weider says that Cyr’s records remain “uncontested and incontestable.”
Cyr died in 1912 of Bright’s disease (now known as chronic nephritis).