Learn About Arthur “The Iron-Master” Saxon, a True Strength Visionary

Arthur Saxon was born on April 28, 1878. He passed away in August, 1921 at a young age of 43 due to pneumonia, but not before leaving a legacy and lasting impact on the strength world. He’s one of the original old-timey strongmen that still receives credit for the way we train today.

Some of his best lifts were said to be a 370 lb bent press, a 200 lb one-arm snatch, a strict military press of about 251 lbs, and a Two Hands Anyhow lift around 440 lbs.

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Saxon grew up in Leipzig, Kingdom of Saxony, which at the time was part of the German Empire. He spent most of his early life being fascinated by working out and lifting. At the ages of 14 and 15, Saxon and his two younger brothers (Kurt and Hermann) began holding strength contests in their parent’s backyard. They’d challenge other youth from the area in arm wrestling, belt wrestling, and weight lifting.

After rarely being defeated (if ever), or challenged at that, the Saxon brothers would soon gain enough popularity to move from their backyard show to performing formal strongman acts. They began to travel as the Saxon Trio and held nightly performances that highlighted their unbelievable strength.

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A few of their acts consisted of a car holding six men driving atop of them with their legs supporting a bridge, heavy one-armed lifts, Two Hand Anyhow lifts, bent presses where Arthur would lift his brothers and weights, and other movements testing the group’s grip strength and endurance.

Possibly the most impressive feats of strength from Arthur were his 370 lb bent press and his 440 lb Two Hand Anyhow lift. Check out the video below of a Two Hand Anyhow lift, and now picture a 5′ 10″ 200 lb man doing this with roughly 440 lbs.

The Saxon Trio made their biggest claims to fame with an act that involved Arthur lifting his brothers on a barbell with one arm and bent pressing them. They’d also open their floor for others to challenge the legitimacy of their acts, which was a crowd favorite at the time. One day, Arthur had proposed a challenge to Eugen Sandow, and Sandow at the time was an older, more reputable performer, so he took his proposition seriously.

On February 26, 1898, Sandow was part of the Saxon Trio’s crowd at a show in Sheffield, England. To Arthur’s surprise (as he didn’t know Sandow was in the crowd) Sandow openly accepted and challenged Arthur. Arthur performed multiple lifts before Sandow finally accepted a challenge and these lifts included:

  • Holding a 110 lb kettle bell at his shoulder with one-finger, while a 160 lb man climbed atop his other arm and sat on the weight, then bent pressed both.
  • Holding a 180 lb kettle bell, while lifting a 188 lb male, and bent pressing both.
  • Balancing a bent pressing a 264 lb barbell.

After watching Arthur perform the first two movements listed above, Sandow finally accepted and attempted the third 264 lb barbell bent press. To his dismay, he failed to stand fully erect with it after five tries and was beaten.

Sandow, a much more weathered performer at the time, assumed it was rigged and took Arthur to court (Sandow ended up winning the court case).

Besides the epic Saxon Trio feats of strength, they also ate epic amounts of food. An article from 1947 published in Your Physique magazine by Leo Gaudreau, provides a little insight into how the Saxon Trio used to eat and train while performing. Below details a regular day of eating for the Saxon Trio.

  • Breakfast: 24 eggs, 3 lbs bacon, porridge, and various fruits
  • Dinner: 10 lbs of meat, vegetables, fruit, sweet tea, and puddings
  • Post-Show: Cold meats, smoked fish, vegetables, butter, and beer

Keep in mind, the article above Gaudreau wrote was personally signed off on by Kurt Saxon (who was also the Saxon Trio chef), so there’s most likely a good amount of truth behind the crazy volume of daily food listed above.

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Like George Hackenschmidt, Saxon published books at the height of his career that dove into his training and ideologies. His two books were published in 1905 and 1910 and still hold multiple truths to them about training.

The 1905 book titled The Development of Physical Power talks about his training methods and includes multiple pictures of how to perform movements. For example, in this book he recommends using multiple types of equipment for training (dumbbells, barbell, kettlebells, etc), which is fairly accurate in today’s training too.

In 1910, he published his book titled The Textbook of Weight-Lifting. This book discussed more of the reasoning behind movements and the psychological aspects that back them.

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Saxon’s death is still somewhat of a mystery, as there are multiple accounts of how he died. What’s possibly the most widely accepted theory is that after his tenure in WWI, he returned malnourished, and continued to perform by himself. As time passed, he ended up getting run down and catching pneumonia, which caused him to pass away soon after.

But this is only one of the speculated stories of his death. The second account of his death involves him being in a tragic performance accident where a car fell atop of him due to the bridge breaking. After the accident, it’s said that he caught pneumonia in the hospital and passed. The third story says his death was caused by his inability to reunite with his wife after the war, which caused a depression. While he was depressed, he ended up catching pneumonia and passing.

Regardless which story of Arthur’s passing holds the most truth, the Saxon Trio left a lasting impact on the strength world. Arthur was a visionary before his time, with books still in rotation, and has left a lasting strength training legacy.

Feature image from @force3fitness Instagram page. 

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