Facts within a Myth

by Steve Yohe



Bob's job at the Rhinelander Paper Mill was working with a machine that spit out 100-pound paper bundles. He had to pick up two of them a minute and stack them from the floor to a height of 15 feet. He worked at this labor for 12 hours a day for over two years. At first he was an assistant to a George Fisher, but George broke down from the work, and Bob continued by himself. Lewis claimed this monotonous work was the hardest time of his life. During his later life as a pro wrestler, in a tough match that stresses his endurance…he'll think of his Rhinelander Mill job and say to himself: "If that didn't break me…nothing will!" You can see how a job like this would turn young Lewis into super strong athletic with the physique of a Hercules. It wasn't the static lifting of weights in a gym; it was the lifting of awkward objects up and down…over and over..for hours and hours that would create the strength and stamina need in a great wrestler.

One of the social centers in Rhinelander was a roller skating rink. It was known as an acceptable place for young boys and girls to meet. In the back of it Bob once battled the local bully in what Lewis claimed was hour and a half long fistfight in 30-degree weather. It was stopped after Friedrich had knocked the other boy down 25 times. Ed claimed he was happy about the stoppage because he was tired from all the punching.

Seems he was also playing basketball in the area, one report had Bob playing ball for Antigo at a basketball tournament in the town of Portage. He also was with an encampment of the Rhinelander company of the state militia around July 1908.

While in Rhinelander, Bob dated and fell in love with a girl named Mabel. He described her as fair of skin, blue of eyes, a Madonna with black hair…who was sweet, genteel, kind and amorous. He went with her for two years and the only reason they didn't get married was because they were only 17 years old. When Bob left Rhinelander, he left Mabel. 20 years later, while wrestling in Ft Worth, he received a letter from a District Attorney. Mabel had become a drug addict, due to a bad marriage, and both husband and wife were in jail. Lewis bailed her out and told her to return home to Rhinelander. Of course, she didn't. She showed up at a wrestling card in St Louis a year later looking worse. Lewis gave her more money and never saw her again.

You'll read that Ed Lewis was a playboy. Always playing the field, having a good time. To me, he didn't seem to be that type. He appears to be more of a good-natured type, always falling in love while thinking about and getting married. My definition of a true playboy doesn't have the word marriage in it.


Friedrich's reputation as a wrestler was building and he needed to move on to another level in his career. He traveled to Minneapolis around the year 1909. Minneapolis was the closest metropolis to Rhinelander and a major wrestling center. He got a job in the drug store of an Oscar Zirker, working as a clerk. He lived in an apartment located at 11th and Hannepin. His roommate was a cook and the rent was $5 a week.

Henry Ordemann, one of the best wrestlers in America, worked out with Bob. He trained in a gym owned by three boxing brothers. At the Cook's gym, he met a Billy Potts, who acted as his manager, but was never paid.

Potts was able to book Friedrick into a handicap match verses the great Stanislaus Zbyszko on Feb. 10, 1910 at the Dewey Theater in Minneapolis. Zbyszko was in the middle of a huge national push, coming off wins over Frank Gotch (handicap match Buffalo Nov. 25, 1909), Fred Beell (Jan. 1, 1910 Buffalo), Tom Jenkins (Jan. 7, 1910 Cleveland), and Charles Cutler, (Jan. 11, 1910) to set up a super return match with the undisputed world champion, Frank Gotch. He probably was the second best wrestler in the world.

After a burlesque show, Zbyszko had agreed to pin three men in 30 minutes. The three were Joe Carr, Carl Mattson, and Robert Friedrick (spelled Frederick). Mattson was pined in 2 ½ minutes. Carr (a very tough middle weight) lasted six minutes, and Bob was pinned in 12 ½ minutes. After the match, Stan made a speech, saying that Friedrick was the strongest man of his age he had ever wrestled. This match was Lewis's introduction to big time pro wrestling.[3]

During this period, Friedrick was having hard times. Food could even be a problem. His roommate cook worked at a lunchroom and Bob would hang out with a starved look on his face. Bob had too much pride to say anything but after awhile the staff would slip him something and the cook would bring home a sandwich for his friend. I wonder if this helped lead Lewis to one of his major vices…food.

Bob then got a job on the shipping room of the Jenn-Semple Hill warehouse, lifting things like stoves and kegs of nails. In Rhinelander, he had brought three or four suits of clothes, and with the money from a new job, he was turning into a clothes hog. He seemed to have very good taste, but he had very little restraint when spending money.[4]

North Dakota

He was then offered $2,500 to play on a pro minor league baseball team at Beach, North Dakota. He still wrestled, beating a good heavyweight named J. Power in the town.[5]

This fellow wrestler Power liked Bob, and help him set up a match with a pro named Jack James, who was coming off a hard battle with Henry Ordemann in Minneapolis. Bob knew a lot of important rich men in Beach and they were hot to bet on Friedrick. With strangers in town looking for Friedrich money, Bob told his friends that he didn't think he could beat James. He was right and his objectivity saves some people money. Bob later felt that Power was setting him and his friends up the whole time.

After the baseball season, Bob got a job working for a friendly jeweler. For four months, he froze running a general store that stood alone on the prairie trail, 25 miles north of Glenn Ellen.

After that, a beautiful Indian girl got Bob a cowboy job on her father's ranch near Terry, Montana. He always wanted to be a cowboy but the actual experience wasn't as romantic as expected and this led him to take the trip back home to Nekoosa.

>> Continue to CHAPTER 3


  • 3 This match is the first newspaper reference to the man that would become Strangler Lewis. This was a major find by Don Luce, one of wrestling's most respected researchers. The clipping (Minneapolis Tribune Feb. 10 and 12, 1910) has Lewis being pinned. Lewis, in THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY, claims he lasted out the 30 minutes for the handicap win. I used the clipping's version, except for the Carl Mattson name which came from Lewis. Sorry if I screwed up a good story, but it is not hard to catch Lewis telling a lie to make himself look good.
  • 4 THE UNPUBLISHED LEWIS BIOGRAPHY: Lewis claimed that, in his championship years, he owned 385 silk shirts, 35 to 50 suits, six trunks of clothes, a diamond stud pin and many canes for every occasion. Because of his 20-inch neck, even neckties had to be made to order. So not all of his money went to ex-wives and old timers down on their luck. It should be noted that Lewis had very good taste in clothes and this probably helped covered up his lack of education while helping the public accept him as a sophisticated champion.