When He Got Shot In The Face, His Skull Stopped The Bullet And He Became A Legend

You may not recognize the name Joseph Greenstein, but perhaps you've heard of the "Mighty Atom." He was one of the world's strongest men despite being born three months premature and so underweight that doctors didn't think he would survive his infancy. Born in Poland in 1893, the Mighty Atom was frail and small when he was young, but he transformed himself physically and mentally to become a famous performer.

The Mighty Atom came from humble beginnings. He joined a European circus and learned from a mentor how to perform various feats of strength. Over the years, he made the news for his incredible stunts. He also used his powers of strength to combat those who opposed him and his beliefs. He is credited with fighting anti-Semites and others who challenged him. He also helped raise money for war efforts and taught law enforcement officials how to protect themselves.

Like Frank Lentini, the three-legged man, and Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, Greenstein used his personal peculiarities to his own advantage.

  • He Grew Up A Small, Weak Child Who Others Nearly Beat To Death

    The boy who became the Mighty Atom was born Yosselle L. Greenstein in 1893 in Suvalk, Poland. A premature baby and of small stature, he fought chronic asthma and suffered breathing problems throughout his childhood; however, he had a strong spirit. Doctors were also concerned that he suffered from tuberculosis, which had killed his father. Still, he didn't give up. He heard that Russian strongman Champion Volkano was making an appearance with a visiting circus. Greenstein was intrigued by the poster showing off Volkano's skills and wanted to see him perform.

    Unable to purchase a ticket, Greenstein tried to pull a fast one by entering the show unnoticed. But circus handlers caught him and beat him so badly that they thought he was dead. 

  • He Joined The Circus And Learned From A Russian Strongman

    Following the beating, Greenstein tried to pick himself up and return home. Then, something happened that would change his life - he ran into the Russian strongman who took pity on the fragile teen. Volkano sat down with Greenstein and, after talking with the boy, decided to help improve his life.

    Volkano gave him advice to eat better, train properly, and change his mindset so he, too, could be strong in heart, body, and mind. Greenstein decided right then and there to join Volkano and learn the circus trade. Despite being just 5'4" tall, it took Greenstein just two years to harden his body and become powerful in his own right. 

  • He Started Wrestling And Left Poland For The United States

    He Started Wrestling And Left Poland For The United States
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After bulking up and working hard to make his body muscular and strong, Greenstein started wrestling. He performed fairly well in his Polish homeland but decided to further his career by moving to the United States. He also noticed the growing anti-Semitism in his home country. He married before leaving Europe and moved to Texas.

    To support himself, Greenstein worked oil fields and as a dock hand. He simultaneously launched a professional wrestling career using the moniker "Kid Greenstein."

  • A Coworker Who Lusted After His Wife Shot Him In The Head, But The Bullet Barely Left A Mark

    While Greenstein lived in Galveston, TX, one of his coworkers took a liking to his wife. The man became incredibly obsessed with her and felt that the only thing standing in his way was Greenstein. One day in 1914, the man decided to do something about it. He went to work and shot Greenstein between the eyes with a .38 revolver. Incredibly, the bullet didn't go through Greenstein's head. It either ricocheted or flattened on impact (accounts vary).

    The hard-headed Greenstein was released from the hospital the same day he was admitted. He believed his strength training saved his life.

  • He Bit Through Nails, Broke Chains, And Held Down An Airplane With His Hair

    He Bit Through Nails, Broke Chains, And Held Down An Airplane With His Hair
    Video: YouTube

    After he survived a gunshot to the head, Greenstein's confidence soared, and "The Mighty Atom" was born. He moved to Coney Island, NY, and showed off his skills to a paying audience. He performed incredible feats, including breaking chains across his chest and bending iron bars using his teeth. He used his hands to drill nails through metal and bit through chains, nails, and quarters. He was so strong, he could bend horseshoes out of shape by pressing them against his forehead.

    In the 1930s, the Mighty Atom laid down on a bed of nails and did the unthinkable - he placed a board on himself and allowed a Dixieland band to play music on top of him. But one of his most incredible feats took place in 1928. He attached himself to an airplane with his hair and held the aircraft down while the pilot attempted to take off. 

  • He Was Assaulted By 6 Men And Sent Them All To The Hospital 

    In 1936, the Mighty Atom reportedly got into a fight with six dock workers and sent them all to the hospital.

    Stories in New York papers read "Little Giant Knocks Out Six."