IRON GAME COLLECTOR'S SERIES
A CENTURY OF MUSCLES, Part 1 of 2

By David Gentle



The world has gone crazy over muscles. Prodded and persuaded by the media, joggers and aerobic enthusiasts, exercise has been promoted as a way to burn off excessive calories in pursuit of physical fitness and improved appearance. And today, everyone is an expert on "diet and exercise" with many individuals inflicting upon themselves a masochistic regime with diets that border on starvation. Yet with it all, muscles are more acceptable today than at any other time in recent history--or since the halcyon days of Golden Greece.

Bodybuilding did not start with Eugen Sandow as many believe. But Sandow definitely made an impact upon a lot of people who became more conscious of their appearance and began exercising. In his day Sandow was recognized as the superstar of physical development--and rightly so. His personality and "personal aura and enthusiasm" for exercising took weight training out of the Bavarian and Austrian beer halls, where strength feats and exercise topics were frequently discussed in those days, and he placed them on a higher level. During the 1880s only awkward dumbbells and shot-loading weights were the only training equipment available. But Sandow, a shrewd businessman, designed his own. His training system consisted of numerous exercises that were done with very light dumbbells, and sometimes with dumbbells that were of the hand-gripping design. Nevertheless, his training system attracted the layman and nobility alike. However, it should be added that this system was NOT the same method that he used to build his own physique. Sandow, as you might guess, trained with heavy weights for bulk and power. In fact, the training system he marketed, if practiced for any length of time, could actually inhibit muscle growth rather than encourage it. Yet all those who trained under Sandow during that time did develop some muscles in spite of 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 those copies are a real collector's prize.

Sandow also published a number of books under his name. One early paperback, titled Bodybuilding--Or Man in the Making, was a popular exercise manual. Later he published Strength and How to Obtain It, nothing more than urging the reader to enroll for his training system. Nevertheless, the book enjoyed numerous reprintings.

His most elaborate volume was the one edited by G. Mercer Adams, a noted author, which was titled Sandow's System of Physical Training, profusely illustrated. Copies of this book can be found even today but are quite expensive. The book was nicely bound and contained numerous pictures of Sandow exercising and some poses. Although Sandow passed on in 1925, his teachings live on.

It was through his magazine and personal appearances that Sandow promoted "The Great Physique Competition," the first of its kind anywhere. Out of over 1,000 entries, the contest was won by W. L. Murray of Nottingham, who received a gold statue of Sandow. R. Cooper of Birmingham took second and the silver statuette, while A. C. Smythe of Middlesex took third and got the bronze statue.

The gold statue was listed at 500 English pounds, equivalent to about $2,500, and in those days that was quite a sum. Later, cheaper reproductions were 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 system, yet he actually started something that even today is considered to b e "the only competition" among those who train to build muscle. Yet to my way of thinking, there was another man in America who turned out to be even a greater physique huckster than Sandow, and that was the eccentric Macfadden.

Bernarr Macfadden started the physical culture movement in America in a big way, though he himself lived by the rules. One could find him walking the streets of New York City barefooted. He ate mostly raw, wholesome foods and 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. When he 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 published Macfadden's Encyclopedia, copies of which can still be found in many homes today.

He also published many magazines, although his favorite one was Physical Culture, dedicated to natural living and exercise. He spawned many new innovations--some of which had substance while others were not very practical.

It was Macfadden, however, who staged the first physique contest in America 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 and sculptors. Al Treloar, a Harvard-educated man, was the winner. Treloar was well versed in athletics and strongmanism. He could tear two and three decks of playing cards with bare hands. He remained as physical director at the Los Angeles Athletic Club until his death. He was in his 80s when he passed on.

Two decades later, Macfadden again sponsored another contest through the pages of Physical Culture. This time to find the World's Most Perfectly Developed Man. This contest was won by a young, well developed Italian named Angelo Siciliano, who later changed his name to Charles Atlas. However, what many do not know is that Atlas was a product of weight training and not from the system he sold. He and another well built Italian, Tony Sansone, trained together at the Brooklyn "Y" and developed fine-looking physiques.

At one time Atlas and Liederman demonstrated chest expanders in vacant store windows along Third Avenue during the 20s for Abe Boshes. Boshes, however, won the short man's height class in the contest that Treloar won, and he did have an impressive body. Later, Atlas and Liederman both went into business for themselves selling their own training systems and did exceedingly well. In fact, even today the Atlas system is still on the market and appears to be as popular as ever with men and women alike. In later years Atlas kept in shape by using his own training system and stayed in remarkable shape to the very end. He passed away in 1978.

It should be mentioned that back in those early days muscle magazines, of which there were very few, were the "life blood" of all who trained with weights. The magazines featured the well known international champions of muscle and strength, with emphasis on strength. This was the period when music halls were the only source of mass entertainment, and any good professional strongman could earn a lucrative living by his ability. Those were truly the "golden days" of showmanship and incredible strength feats, feats that everyone could appreciate and relate to. Those were the days of Otto Arco, Bobby Pandour, Warren Lincoln Travis, Sgt/S. Moss, Hackenschmidt, Strongfort, Maxick, Goerner, Apollon, Vansitart, Matysek, Breibart, MacMahon, 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 strength enthusiasts. These magazines reported lifting matches and challenges, something that was quite common in that era. However, physique photos were the main pictorial attraction. Poses of Sig Klein and Tony Sansone were especially favored, particularly when taken by the master of photography, Townsend of New York. Townsend's pictures were always a work of art, and 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 Development, Strength, Macfadden's Physical Culture and The Bodybuilder, a rotogravure newspaper type of magazine devoted strictly to strongmanism, Iron Man and Your Physique, a magazine printed in Canada and supported by York.

In Great Britain the top sellers were Health & Strength, now over 100 years 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 weights.

During this time many mail-order training systems were being advertised for building muscles and strength. The most popular apparatus offered then was hand-grips and also chest expanders. Earle Liederman sold chest expanders with his training course, then later offered his weight training system to his students.

Jowett, Strongfort, and Atlas were all widely advertised, but Jowett's "Be As Tough As a Marine" made quite a hit with muscle seekers. Liederman, however, was the largest advertiser. He spent literally millions, even during the Depression, which eventually "did him in." After his business folded, he obtained a position on radio and read poetry over the air waves, most of which he wrote himself. Later he moved to California and did much the same thing over radio, besides writing articles for S&H. He died in California after being involved in a serious car accident. He was in his 90s when he passed on.

About this time others jumped on the bandwagon and offered their mail-order training systems. Some made extraordinary claims, something that might have landed them in the courts today, while others, but only a few, were openly honest and advocated sheer hard work with weights as being the only way to develop a shapely, muscular body.

Shortly after the turn of the century, a man in America founded the Milo Barbell Company in Philadelphia and started the magazine Strength. Strength started out as little more than a pamphlet but blossomed into a full-sized magazine featuring weight training and other health articles to rival Physical Culture. However, during World War I, the publication was suspended as well as the manufacturing of barbells. But after the war operations began once again.

For a time things began to flourish, but it was difficult to convince people to exercise with weights. Weights were always associated with the circus strongman, so the public in general avoided training with them. Calvert, the founder of the Milo Barbell Company, persisted in his effort and urged people to exercise with weights, even writing a book, published before the war, which he titled The Truth About Weightlifting.

Calvert was instrumental in educating thousands in the basic principles of progressive weight training. Eventually he became disenchanted with the lack of interest and sold the business to G. D. Redmond. Redmond engaged Jowett to edit Strength magazine, but after a couple of years he left. Mark Berry was then his associate, so when Jowett left, Mark took over and remained as editor until the company folded. It was while Mark was editor that he brought out The Strongman, a magazine devoted to the avid weight trainer. However, after Strength magazine ceased publication, Mark continued on his own in this field. He published a small magazine he called Physical Training Notes. This, too, failed to survive.

Prior to the bankruptcy of the Milo company and Strength magazine, Mark Berry authored a truly fine book titled Physical Training Simplified. It was informative but rather technical for most enthusiasts. He followed this with two volumes of Physical Improvement. His final effort was a book he called Your Physique and Its Culture that featured John Grimek posing for the exercises.

All these books and muscle magazines helped to foster greater interest, but it was Strength & Health magazine, first published in 1932, that helped to revive the failing interest in the Iron Game. And today, Strength & Health continues to put emphasis on bodybuilding and weightlifting, encouraging all individuals to exercise, eat properly, and stay in strong physical shape, so bodybuilding and weight training has been stimulated and is on the move once again.

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 astounded the American budding strongmen with his leg power and lifting ability. He demonstrated his ability to "rock" onto his shoulders a heavy barbell and then do squats with that weight. He was the first man to shoulder over 500 pounds in this manner, unassisted, and perform squats. This "young athlete" continues to exercise even today, although he is 90 years of age.

After his performance, squats became a milestone for all those seeking the road to physical perfection. Eventually, squat racks were designed that made it easier for anyone to get more weight across their shoulders without struggling to do their squats, and with this, other training systems began to make their appearance.

Weight training was catching on even before the "big crash" that brought on the Depression, so things were tough everywhere. Then early in 1935 the Milo Company declared bankruptcy. Although Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell Company were feeling the pinch, Bob still managed to buy up all the Milo stock and rights. At this point it was Bob Hoffman who literally rescued American bodybuilding and weightlifting from vanishing completely from the scene. Weight training and physical development was then at its lowest ebb. Only Strength & Health mag helped to perpetuate the Iron Game as we know it today.

Hoffman updated the original Milo training system, a system that was based on the exercises that Prof. Siebert of Germany developed. So, think what you will, but the fact remains that ALL today's champions continue to use those very same exercises with only the slightest modifications of those contained in the original Milo training course.

During the '30s and into the '40s were Bob's most prolific years as editor of S&H and the writing of many books. His first volume, a big, attractive book that he wrote in 1938, was titled How To Be Strong, Healthy and Happy. It contained a wealth of practical information and was one of the best books every written by anyone. Then during the early '40s he wrote Big Arms, Secrets of Strength & Development, Weightlifting, Big Chest, plus many other titles and other interesting subjects. In all he wrote some 50-odd books that were aimed at educating those interested in sensible weight training and overall improvement.

Now with so many well developed physiques around, something more was needed. In 1938 Johnny Hordines proposed to organize a Mr. America contest to find the country's Best Built Man. He found there was a considerable interest and held such a contest in Amsterdam, NY. Bert Goodrich won the overall title, and Elmer Farnham, a Yorker, won the crown in the shorter division. Then in Chicago in 1939, the site of the National Weightlifting Championships, a contest to find the Best Built Weightlifter was held with these championships and was subtitled "Mr. America" on the entry forms. To be eligible for this 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 division.

In 1940 the AAU held its first official Mr. America contest as part of the Senior National Championships and staged it in Madison Square Garden. It generated a lot of interest. After that the Mr. America contest was always held in conjunction with the Nationals and under the AAU auspices. John Grimek, who was not officially entered, was drafted into the contest by demand, and thus became the first official (AAU) Mr. America winner. The following year in Philadelphia he won again.

Grimek, however, went on to win every major physique title then offered, including a professional contest and two challenges. In the professional contest several of the Mr. America winners competed, so that if such a rule was not established, Grimek might have kept on winning until he retired, which he did for the third and final time at this professional contest.

He is the only champion to retire undefeated--which is something unique, and he's still going strong.

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