On this Day:
On June 5, 1927 Johnny Weissmuller set a 100-yard & 200-yard free-style swim record.
Johann Peter Weißmüller was born on June 2, 1904, in Freidorf, in the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary (now part of Romania) into an ethnically Banat Swabian family. Three days later he was baptized into the Catholic faith by the Hungarian version of his German name, as János. Early the next year on January 26, 1905, he embarked on a twelve-day trip on the S.S. Rotterdam to Ellis Island alongside his father, Peter Weißmüller, and mother, Elisabeth Weißmüller (née Kersch). Soon they arrived in Windber, Pennsylvania, to live with family. Johnny’s brother Peter was born the following September.
Three years later they relocated to Chicago to be with his mother’s parents. His parents rented a single level in a shared house where he lived during his childhood. Fullerton Beach on Lake Michigan is where Johnny’s love for swimming took off, having his first swimming lessons there. He excelled immediately and began entering and winning every race he could. Johnny’s father deserted the family when Johnny was in the eighth grade. He left school to begin working in order to support his mother and younger brother.
When Weissmuller was 11 he lied to join the YMCA, which had a 12 year old minimum rule to join. He won every swimming race he entered and also excelled at running and high jumping. Before long he was on one of the best swim teams in the country, the Illinois Athletic Club.
Later, Weissmuller tried out for swimming with coach Bill Bachrach. Impressed with what he saw, he took Weissmuller under his wing. He also was a strong father figure and mentor for Johnny. On August 6, 1921, Weissmuller began his competitive swimming career. He entered four Amateur Athletic Union races and won them all. He set his first 2 world records at the A.A.U. Nationals on September 27, 1921, in the 100m and 150yd events.
On July 9, 1922, Weissmuller broke Duke Kahanamoku’s world record in the 100-meter freestyle, swimming it in 58.6 seconds. He won the title for that distance at the 1924 Summer Olympics, beating Kahanamoku for the gold medal. He also won the 400-meter freestyle and was a member of the winning U.S. team in the 4×200-meter relay.
Four years later, at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, he won another two gold medals. It was during this period that Weissmuller became an enthusiast for John Harvey Kellogg’s holistic lifestyle views on nutrition, enemas and exercise. He came to Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan sanatorium to dedicate its new 120-foot swimming pool, and break one of his own previous swimming records after adopting the vegetarian diet prescribed by Kellogg.
In 1927, Weissmuller set a new world record of 51.0 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, which stood for 17 years. He improved it to 48.5 seconds at Billy Rose World’s Fair Aquacade in 1940, aged 36, but this result was discounted, as he was competing as a professional.
As a member of the U.S. men’s national water polo team, he won a bronze medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics. He also competed in the 1928 Olympics, where the U.S. team finished in seventh place.
In all, Weissmuller won five Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal, 52 United States national championships, and set 67 world records. He was the first man to swim the 100-meter freestyle under one minute and the 440-yard freestyle under five minutes. He never lost a race and retired with an unbeaten amateur record. In 1950, he was selected by the Associated Press as the greatest swimmer of the first half of the 20th century.
World Record Breaker
Over the course of his career, Weissmuller set 28 world records. His 1927 world record for the 100 yard freestyle was unbeaten for 17 years. This was a remarkable length of time during a period of rapid development in the sport. Much of his success was due to his revolutionary high-riding stroke, flutter kick and head-turning breathing.
Still the Greatest?
Weissmuller won far fewer gold medals than more recent swimming icons such as Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps. But this was due to the limited number of events available to him. Given the margin of superiority he had over his rivals, some experts still regard him as the greatest swimmer of all time.
After his swimming career, Weissmuller became a movie star. Cast as “Tarzan the Ape Man”, he starred in 12 films and became the actor most commonly identified with the character. Weissmuller went on to star in sixteen Jungle Jim movies over an eight year period, then filmed 26 additional half-hour episodes of the Jungle Jim TV series.
Weissmuller saved many peoples’ lives throughout his own life. One very notable instance was in 1927 whilst training for the Chicago Marathon, Weissmuller saved 11 people from drowning after a boat accident. On July 28, 1927 sixteen children, ten women, and one man drowned, when the Favorite, a small excursion boat cruising from Lincoln Park to Municipal Pier (Navy Pier), capsized half a mile off North Avenue in a sudden, heavy squall. Seventy-five women and children and a half dozen men sank with the boat when it tipped over, but rescuers saved over fifty of them. Weissmueller was one of the Chicago lifeguards who saved many.
First, a Joke:
What’s Tarzan’s favourite Christmas carol?
Second, a Song:
Here is a video of Johnny Weissmuller courtesy of MyFootage.com and YouTube.com.
Johnny Weissmuller wins and sets a new record in San Francisco at the 1920 Mens Swimming Nationals. We hope you enjoy!
Thought for the Day:
“I have always been vitally interested in physical conditioning. I have long believed that athletic competition among people and nations should replace violence and wars.” – Johnny Weissmuller
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky