William Bankier: Apollo, The Scottish Hercules

apolloWilliam Bankier who was most famously known as “Apollo, The Scottish Hercules” was a well known strongman and physical culturalist of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bankier is not well known today because his star often fell under the shadow of Eugen Sandow whose fame was prolific at the time and in the subsequent years.

That said, it could successfully be argued that Bankier’s athletic prowess and strength exceeded that of Sandow. While Sandow, a very strong man in his own right, specialised in attaining the “Grecian Ideal”, Bankier was a generalist strength trainer, boxer and professional wrestler.

He was born in December 10, 1870 in Banff, Scotland to parents who were school teachers. When Bankier was young, he was not drawn to the sedentary academic life of his parents; rather he was fascinated by the circus.

 

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When he was twelve, he ran from home to work as a laborer at a circus. This dream was soon cut short as his parents soon caught up with him and took him back home.

Undaunted by his initial failure, he escaped from home again. This time he secured employment with a ship’s crew where fate intervened again. His ship was wrecked off the coast of Canada.

With little choices left to him he got work farming in Montreal but his dreams of the circus were ever present in his mind. At the tender age of 14 he managed to join the Porgie O’Brien road show apprenticed to the resident strongman.


The strongman at O’Briens was an established performer, but also had a love affair with the bottle. Inevitably he was unable to perform at times. Bankier performed in his place and his strongman act was born.

After honing his act he left the O’Briens show and joined “William Muldoon's Athletics Entourage”. With Muldoon he changed his stage name to Carl Clyndon. The strong man act remained and improved but he also started performing in wrestling ring. His skill set was growing as his star was on the rise.

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After leaving Muldoon, he added boxing to his repertoire with a two year stint with Jack Kilrain: a former heavy weight boxing champion.

Always improving and moving forward, Bankier spent time Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, the Ginnett Circus and the world renowned Bostock Circus. By now his strongman act was polished and his strength was prodigious.

Some of his accomplishments

  • Harness lifting an elephant
  • Balancing on backs of 2 chairs, raising a man with his right hand, juggling plates with his left
  • Challenging the audience to carry a 475lb sack off the stage which he did with ease
  • Tomb of Hercules: a back lift of a piano, six person orchestra and a dancer

By 1899 he was back in Great Britain. He finally changed his moniker to Apollo, The Scottish Hercules, his most famous stage name. Now a superstar in his own right he travelled round the world and performing to large audiences.

While his excellent performance resulted in him being compared to Sandow he always seemed to fall under Sandow’s shadow. It obviously bothered him.

In 1899, he challenged Sandow to contests in running, jumping, weightlifting and wrestling. This challenge was not accepted by Sandow and Apollo opened his next act with a posing display.

By all accounts his physique was comparable to Sandows although he had never specifically trained for it. At 175lbs at a height of 5' 6.5" and better developed legs, Bankier was in his prime.

Sandow’s fame obviously bothered Bankier and for years later he derided Sandow publically.

After retiring from his professional career, Bankier partnered with Monte Saldo and opened the Apollo-Saldo academy. The academy attracted many wrestlers and lifters of the day. He also founded the British Society of Jiu-Jitsu. His main activity during his latter years was in wrestling promotion which he continued until his death in 1949. William Bankier was 79 years old. 

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