50 Hats of Aztec (There’s History Under Those Hats) Popeye the Sailorman

Edmond P. DeRousse September 6, 2018 at 4:48 pm

  (Hat provided by Spinach Can Collectables, Chester, Illinois)

I’m Popeye the sailor man, I’m Popeye the sailor man.
I’m strong to the finich, cause I eats me spinach.
I’m Popeye the sailor man.

We know him as the gravelly voiced sailor with highly toned muscular arms who smokes a pipe and loves spinach. Popeye the Sailorman was created by Elzie Crisler Segar (1894 – 1938) and inspired by a local legend in Segar’s hometown of Chester, Illinois. The local legend’s name was Frank “Rocky” Fiegel.

Fiegel, nicknamed “Rocky” because of his chiseled physique, was feared for his fighting abilities. It was said he could “render a good butt whooping even when attacked by several adversaries at once.” The toothless Fiegel worked in a local saloon. After his work day was over and a few beers consumed, he would sit outside the saloon in a chair with a corncob in his mouth and take a nap in the sun. As the local schoolchildren would pass by the sleeping Fiegel, they would scream at him and then run away. Fiegel would pop out of his chair ready to fight, fist flailing.   

Segar introduced his Popeye character based on Fiegel on January 17, 1929 to King Features Syndicate. It was as a minor character in Segar’s newspaper cartoon strip, “Thimble Theatre”. In his debut, Popeye was a sailor hired as a crewman on a ship. It is there he meets a stow-a-way, Olive Oyl.

By the time Popeye was introduced, Segar’s “Thimble Theatre” was in its 10th. year. Popeye soon became so popular; the strip began to focus more on him. Fleischer Studios, who had purchased the rights to Popeye from King Features, debuted Popeye in a Betty Boop short feature in July 1933. Popeye became an immediate hit and remained in production for Fleischer as cartoon shorts for Paramount Studios until 1957.

Originally, Popeye gained his strength by rubbing Bernice, the magical Whiffle Hen. It was another character created by Segar for his “Thimble Theatre” just before the appearance of Popeye. In 1932, that gimmick gave way to eating spinach. His fondness for the stuff first showed up when he was thrown into a spinach field after being beaten up.

Popeye’s testimony that he is ‘strong to the finish, ’cause I eats my spinach’ is apparently born from a mistake 50 year before he became popular. German chemist, Erich von Wolf, in 1870 correctly determined the amount of iron in spinach was 3.5 milligrams per 100-gram serving. But when he recorded his findings, he wrote that it had 35 milligrams. It was a mistake not corrected until 1937. But when Popeye was created, spinach was thought to be a superfood and it became the source of his strength. Because of Popeye’s spinach fondness, the consumption of spinach increased in America by a third.

The signature theme song for Popeye the Sailorman was written by Fleischer Studios composer Samuel Lerner for the character’s animated debut in 1933. The early cartoons, though, opened with a few notes from a different song, “The Sailor’s Hornpipe”. “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” is a traditional hornpipe dance melody performed in bare feet on the wet decks of late eighteenth century ships. In later versions, when Popeye entered the scene, he would sing his theme song. Eventually, it became customary for Popeye to sing the last few verses of his theme song adjusted to suit the episodes’ subject matter. Also, whenever Popeye ate his spinach, his theme song would be played as a faster instrumental to indicate his upcoming boost in strength.

Popeye continues to be seen even today. In total, 231 Popeye shorts have been produced and are highly acclaimed by his fans and animation historians alike.



*Popeye’s age is 34. He was born in a typhoon in Santa Monica, California.

*Frank “Rocky” Fiegel, the inspiration for Popeye the Sailorman formerly unmarked grave was finally marked with a gravestone on September 7, 1996. The marker is inscripted with the 1929 version of E.C. Segar’s Popeye character.

*Dora Paskel is the rea-life persona of Olive Oyl. She was tall, lanky, wore her hair tightly rolled up in a bun, and was the owner of a general store in Chester, Illinois. Supposedly, like Olive Oyl, she wore a similar dress and button-up shoes which were the custom of her time.

*Popeye was the first time in history a city erected a statue honoring a cartoon character. Crystal City, Texas did it in 1937.

*At the end of the animated film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” there was a scene at the end of the film featuring almost every famous cartoon character in animation history…. except Popeye. Disney did not forget him, they were unable to get legal permission to use his likeness.

*The voices of Popeye (Jack Mercer) and Olive Oyl (Margie Hynes) got married in real life.

* The real live model for J. Wellington Wimpy, the hamburger connoisseur and Popeye’s friend, was J. William Schuchert. He owned the Opera House where Segar worked as a youngster. Schuchert, like Wimpy, was a rotund man and shared an insatiable appetite for hamburgers. But unlike Wimpy, he was a generous man.

Official Popeye Fanclub & Spinach Can Collectibles 
Located in the World Famous Opera House Circa 1875
In Beautiful Downtown Chester, Illinois
“The Hometown Of Popeye and Elzie C. Segar”

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13 Interesting Popeye the Sailorman Facts

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