This blog is 99% about my kink for wrestling and wrestlers, but I also have a fondness for the history of wrestling as a professional entertainment and as a defining emblem of masculinity from ancient times to today. Over the years I have been blogging, I have read several books on the early days of pro wrestling, among them Scott Beekman's Ringside: A History of Professional Wrestling in America (2006), Jake Shannon's Say Uncle! Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling and the Roots of Ultimate Fighting, Professional Wrestling, & Modern Grappling (2011), and Jonathan Snowden's Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling (2012). These histories helped shape how I imagine wrestling sport and spectacle before television and Gorgeous George*. The pictures from the early era inspire fantasies of matches in tents with sawdust floors and pomaded heroes battling barons with German-sounding names. The following photos cover the 1920s and 1930s.

Three wrestlers posing in the 1920s

Catch-wrestling magazines of 1920

1920 yearbook photo of the wrestling team at UPenn

College wrestlers posing in the nude

Amateur homoerotica from the 1930s

Ernest Cadine, French wrestler and strongman in 1920

Lobby card for the silent movie The Wrestlers (1920)

Georg Hackenschmidt, UK-based wrestler and strongman, dubbed "The Russian Lion"

Gustav Frištenský, Czech wrestler in 1920

Tom Jenkins, three-time heavyweight champion wrestler

 Reginald Siki, professional wrestler, born in Missouri, billed as Ethiopian

Japanese-American wrestlers at the University of Washington

Up front, Nat Pendleton, Olympic wrestler who later played strongman Eugen Sandow in the Oscar-winning best picture The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

 Photographic recreation of the sculpture The Uffizi Wrestlers

* George's paradigm-shifting impact on pro wrestling and popular culture at large is detailed in John Capouya's 2008 biography. George himself was a genius, I think, a real artist as well as showman and athlete, but I'm ambivalent about his widespread effect on wrestling since I often pine for the simpler, earnest, and unironic version of the biz. It's generally believed, though, that without Gorgeous George, pro wrestling would not have survived to the end of the 20th century and would have taken the same path to oblivion as roller derby and dance marathons.


  1. So glad I grew up with TV and could see shows (on the sly) from the Olympic Auditorium in LA. Absent the reading of those books I did think the sport had weight in popular culture. Where I can glimpse vintage squared circle is in old movies. In a WC Fields movie his character played hooky from work to see an afternoon wrestling match. The (fictitious) contenders were a known commodity to the townfolk/public, whether villain or good guy. Even though it was a comedy I like to think that kind of reflection on the show/sport of wrestling had real basis. And I am pretty sure the wrestler villain was a German or Russian. Of course WC's movies were a hoot. Jason

    1. Jason, is the movie The Man on the Flying Trapeze? I love movies in the '30s, '40s, and '50s that feature pro wresting as a backdrop ... or at least in a scene.

  2. Just fantastic. I love this post. I really enjoy vintage pictures and posters, but have no real concept of the context surrounding them. I guess I have some reading and research to do.


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