IRON GAME COLLECTOR'S SERIES
By David Gentle
A CENTURY OF MUSCLES, Part 1 of 2
The world has gone crazy over muscles. Prodded and persuaded by the
joggers and aerobic enthusiasts, exercise has been promoted as a way to
off excessive calories in pursuit of physical fitness and improved
appearance. And today, everyone is an expert on "diet and exercise"
many individuals inflicting upon themselves a masochistic regime with
that border on starvation. Yet with it all, muscles are more
today than at any other time in recent history--or since the halcyon
Bodybuilding did not start with Eugen Sandow as many believe. But
definitely made an impact upon a lot of people who became more
their appearance and began exercising. In his day Sandow was
the superstar of physical development--and rightly so. His personality
"personal aura and enthusiasm" for exercising took weight training out
Bavarian and Austrian beer halls, where strength feats and exercise
were frequently discussed in those days, and he placed them on a higher
level. During the 1880s only awkward dumbbells and shot-loading
the only training equipment available. But Sandow, a shrewd
designed his own. His training system consisted of numerous exercises
were done with very light dumbbells, and sometimes with dumbbells that
of the hand-gripping design. Nevertheless, his training system
layman and nobility alike. However, it should be added that this
NOT the same method that he used to build his own physique. Sandow, as
might guess, trained with heavy weights for bulk and power. In fact,
training system he marketed, if practiced for any length of time, could
actually inhibit muscle growth rather than encourage it. Yet all those
trained under Sandow during that time did develop some muscles in spite
that training system.
During the late 1890s Sandow published his own magazine and called it
Physical Culture, a name that the Father of Physical Culture, Bernarr
Macfadden, also adopted. Sandow's magazine ran for 14 years, but today
copies are a real collector's prize.
Sandow also published a number of books under his name. One early
titled Bodybuilding--Or Man in the Making, was a popular exercise
Later he published Strength and How to Obtain It, nothing more than
the reader to enroll for his training system. Nevertheless, the book
His most elaborate volume was the one edited by G. Mercer Adams, a
author, which was titled Sandow's System of Physical Training,
illustrated. Copies of this book can be found even today but are quite
expensive. The book was nicely bound and contained numerous pictures
Sandow exercising and some poses. Although Sandow passed on in 1925,
teachings live on.
It was through his magazine and personal appearances that Sandow
"The Great Physique Competition," the first of its kind anywhere. Out
over 1,000 entries, the contest was won by W. L. Murray of Nottingham,
received a gold statue of Sandow. R. Cooper of Birmingham took second
the silver statuette, while A. C. Smythe of Middlesex took third and
The gold statue was listed at 500 English pounds, equivalent to about
and in those days that was quite a sum. Later, cheaper reproductions
made of ordinary metal and were presented as awards. They were still
appreciated by those who received them.
The main objective of this competition was to promote his training
yet he actually started something that even today is considered to b e
only competition" among those who train to build muscle. Yet to my way
thinking, there was another man in America who turned out to be even a
greater physique huckster than Sandow, and that was the eccentric
Bernarr Macfadden started the physical culture movement in America in a
way, though he himself lived by the rules. One could find him walking
streets of New York City barefooted. He ate mostly raw, wholesome
urged everyone else to do the same for better health. He was a true
naturalist. He even started a chain of cafeterias around New York City
during the Depression that served only wholesome food at low prices.
was 80 years old, to prove he was still agile, alert and athletic, he
parachuted out of a plane and made a successful landing.
Macfadden authored numerous books on health and disease. He also
Macfadden's Encyclopedia, copies of which can still be found in many
He also published many magazines, although his favorite one was
Culture, dedicated to natural living and exercise. He spawned many new
innovations--some of which had substance while others were not very
It was Macfadden, however, who staged the first physique contest in
in 1903 and held it in Madison Square Garden, then the showplace of all
athletic events. The elite panel of judges consisted mainly of doctors
sculptors. Al Treloar, a Harvard-educated man, was the winner.
well versed in athletics and strongmanism. He could tear two and three
of playing cards with bare hands. He remained as physical director at
Los Angeles Athletic Club until his death. He was in his 80s when he
Two decades later, Macfadden again sponsored another contest through
pages of Physical Culture. This time to find the World's Most
Developed Man. This contest was won by a young, well developed Italian
Angelo Siciliano, who later changed his name to Charles Atlas.
many do not know is that Atlas was a product of weight training and not
the system he sold. He and another well built Italian, Tony Sansone,
together at the Brooklyn "Y" and developed fine-looking physiques.
At one time Atlas and Liederman demonstrated chest expanders in vacant
windows along Third Avenue during the 20s for Abe Boshes. Boshes,
won the short man's height class in the contest that Treloar won, and
have an impressive body. Later, Atlas and Liederman both went into
for themselves selling their own training systems and did exceedingly
In fact, even today the Atlas system is still on the market and appears
as popular as ever with men and women alike. In later years Atlas kept
shape by using his own training system and stayed in remarkable shape
very end. He passed away in 1978.
It should be mentioned that back in those early days muscle magazines,
which there were very few, were the "life blood" of all who trained
weights. The magazines featured the well known international champions
muscle and strength, with emphasis on strength. This was the period
music halls were the only source of mass entertainment, and any good
professional strongman could earn a lucrative living by his ability.
were truly the "golden days" of showmanship and incredible strength
feats that everyone could appreciate and relate to. Those were the
Otto Arco, Bobby Pandour, Warren Lincoln Travis, Sgt/S. Moss,
Strongfort, Maxick, Goerner, Apollon, Vansitart, Matysek, Breibart,
Coutler, and many, many more. The mere mention of these names leaves a
nostalgic memory for many of us.
Muscle magazines then, as now, catered mostly to the muscle and
enthusiasts. These magazines reported lifting matches and challenges,
something that was quite common in that era. However, physique photos
the main pictorial attraction. Poses of Sig Klein and Tony Sansone
especially favored, particularly when taken by the master of
Townsend of New York. Townsend's pictures were always a work of art,
those who saw them admired his work.
Here are a few of the magazine titles that some of you might remember:
Jowett's Bodybuilder, Berry's Strongman, Klein's Bell, Physical
Strength, Macfadden's Physical Culture and The Bodybuilder, a
newspaper type of magazine devoted strictly to strongmanism, Iron Man
Your Physique, a magazine printed in Canada and supported by York.
In Great Britain the top sellers were Health & Strength, now over 100
old, Superman and Apollon magazines. Desbonnet's La Culture Physique,
printed in Paris, and the German magazine published by Albert Stoltz,
Athleten-Zeitung, were all magazines dealing with strongmanism and
During this time many mail-order training systems were being advertised
building muscles and strength. The most popular apparatus offered then
hand-grips and also chest expanders. Earle Liederman sold chest
with his training course, then later offered his weight training system
Jowett, Strongfort, and Atlas were all widely advertised, but Jowett's
Tough As a Marine" made quite a hit with muscle seekers. Liederman,
was the largest advertiser. He spent literally millions, even during
Depression, which eventually "did him in." After his business folded,
obtained a position on radio and read poetry over the air waves, most
which he wrote himself. Later he moved to California and did much the
thing over radio, besides writing articles for S&H. He died in
after being involved in a serious car accident. He was in his 90s when
About this time others jumped on the bandwagon and offered their
training systems. Some made extraordinary claims, something that might
landed them in the courts today, while others, but only a few, were
honest and advocated sheer hard work with weights as being the only way
develop a shapely, muscular body.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a man in America founded the
Barbell Company in Philadelphia and started the magazine Strength.
started out as little more than a pamphlet but blossomed into a
magazine featuring weight training and other health articles to rival
Physical Culture. However, during World War I, the publication was
as well as the manufacturing of barbells. But after the war operations
For a time things began to flourish, but it was difficult to convince
to exercise with weights. Weights were always associated with the
strongman, so the public in general avoided training with them.
founder of the Milo Barbell Company, persisted in his effort and urged
to exercise with weights, even writing a book, published before the
which he titled The Truth About Weightlifting.
Calvert was instrumental in educating thousands in the basic principles
progressive weight training. Eventually he became disenchanted with
of interest and sold the business to G. D. Redmond. Redmond engaged
to edit Strength magazine, but after a couple of years he left. Mark
was then his associate, so when Jowett left, Mark took over and
editor until the company folded. It was while Mark was editor that he
brought out The Strongman, a magazine devoted to the avid weight
However, after Strength magazine ceased publication, Mark continued on
own in this field. He published a small magazine he called Physical
Notes. This, too, failed to survive.
Prior to the bankruptcy of the Milo company and Strength magazine, Mark
authored a truly fine book titled Physical Training Simplified. It was
informative but rather technical for most enthusiasts. He followed this
two volumes of Physical Improvement. His final effort was a book he
Your Physique and Its Culture that featured John Grimek posing for the
All these books and muscle magazines helped to foster greater interest,
it was Strength & Health magazine, first published in 1932, that helped
revive the failing interest in the Iron Game. And today, Strength &
continues to put emphasis on bodybuilding and weightlifting,
individuals to exercise, eat properly, and stay in strong physical
bodybuilding and weight training has been stimulated and is on the move
In the early '20s, a few years after the first World War, a husky young
German athlete, Henry "Milo" Steinborn, came upon the scene and
American budding strongmen with his leg power and lifting ability. He
demonstrated his ability to "rock" onto his shoulders a heavy barbell
then do squats with that weight. He was the first man to shoulder over
pounds in this manner, unassisted, and perform squats. This "young
continues to exercise even today, although he is 90 years of age.
After his performance, squats became a milestone for all those seeking
road to physical perfection. Eventually, squat racks were designed
it easier for anyone to get more weight across their shoulders without
struggling to do their squats, and with this, other training systems
make their appearance.
Weight training was catching on even before the "big crash" that
the Depression, so things were tough everywhere. Then early in 1935
Company declared bankruptcy. Although Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell
Company were feeling the pinch, Bob still managed to buy up all the
stock and rights. At this point it was Bob Hoffman who literally
American bodybuilding and weightlifting from vanishing completely from
scene. Weight training and physical development was then at its lowest
Only Strength & Health mag helped to perpetuate the Iron Game as we
Hoffman updated the original Milo training system, a system that was
the exercises that Prof. Siebert of Germany developed. So, think what
will, but the fact remains that ALL today's champions continue to use
very same exercises with only the slightest modifications of those
in the original Milo training course.
During the '30s and into the '40s were Bob's most prolific years as
S&H and the writing of many books. His first volume, a big, attractive
that he wrote in 1938, was titled How To Be Strong, Healthy and Happy.
contained a wealth of practical information and was one of the best
every written by anyone. Then during the early '40s he wrote Big Arms,
Secrets of Strength & Development, Weightlifting, Big Chest, plus many
titles and other interesting subjects. In all he wrote some 50-odd
that were aimed at educating those interested in sensible weight
Now with so many well developed physiques around, something more was
In 1938 Johnny Hordines proposed to organize a Mr. America contest to
the country's Best Built Man. He found there was a considerable
held such a contest in Amsterdam, NY. Bert Goodrich won the overall
and Elmer Farnham, a Yorker, won the crown in the shorter division.
Chicago in 1939, the site of the National Weightlifting Championships,
contest to find the Best Built Weightlifter was held with these
and was subtitled "Mr. America" on the entry forms. To be eligible for
physique event, each contestant had to take part in the lifting. Roland
Essmaker won the tall class, and Tony Terlazzo took the short man's
In 1940 the AAU held its first official Mr. America contest as part of
Senior National Championships and staged it in Madison Square Garden.
generated a lot of interest. After that the Mr. America contest was
held in conjunction with the Nationals and under the AAU auspices.
Grimek, who was not officially entered, was drafted into the contest by
demand, and thus became the first official (AAU) Mr. America winner.
following year in Philadelphia he won again.
Grimek, however, went on to win every major physique title then
including a professional contest and two challenges. In the
contest several of the Mr. America winners competed, so that if such a
was not established, Grimek might have kept on winning until he
which he did for the third and final time at this professional contest.
He is the only champion to retire undefeated--which is something
he's still going strong.