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Popeye the Sailor Man was Really Frank “Rocky” Fiegel from Chester, Illinois

Popeye the Sailor Man really existed…..

Popeye the Sailor Man was a squinty-eyed sailor who was the main character of a comic created in the late 1920s by E.C. Segar. Like many beloved characters, he didn’t begin as the star of the story – he was a minor character hired to be apart of a ship’s crew. While he was only meant to be around for a few strips, the Popeye character quickly became very popular and the focus of the strip. Popeye eventually won the heart of the originally unimpressed and at times fickle, Olive Oyl and becomes the adopted father of Swee’Pea, a baby he finds in the mail. 

Some say this is not a real picture of Fiegel, apparently – but this gets passed around with the story.

Elzie Segar, the creator of the comic, knew a man in Illinois named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel who inspired the character Popeye. Frank “Rocky” Fiegel  was born January 27, 1868 in Poland. He was a retired sailor contracted by Wiebusch’s tavern in the city of Chester, Illinois, to clean and maintain order. He had a reputation to be always involved in fighting, so he had a deformed eye (“Pop-eye”). He had demonstrated his strength in so many fights that he became a local legend.  He always smoked his pipe, so he spoke only with one side of his mouth. Like the character Popeye was similar to “Rocky” in that he smoked a pipe and was toothless, but Segar took a few other liberties. Fiegel was less of a spinach eater and more of a drinker, and instead of a sailor he was actually a bartender.


Like Popeye, Fiegel was said to be very kind to children and loved to be around them. There is no accounting of his imaginary adventures which boasts about the exploits of his physical strength, ensuring he never lost a fight. The author of Popeye, Elzie Crisler Segar, born in Chester, met Frank when where the young man was to listen to their stories and years later honored him with the character Popeye the Sailor Man.

Olive Oil also existed, she was Dora Paskel, owner of a grocery store in Chester. She is also described to dress just like Olive Oil. Segar kept in touch with Frank and had always helped him with money. Frank and Popeye also carried some inherent features like courage, chivalry and virility.  Fiegel wasn’t really aware of his role in the creation of Popeye until his final years of life. An engraving of Popeye’s face is on his gravestone. A statue of Popeye was put up in his honor in Chester, Illinois. He died on March 24, 1947.

Posted in Celebrities, Children

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