THE GREAT MAIL-ORDER ERA
by Vic Boff
The Mail-Order Physical Instructors or Muscle Builders played a tremendous
part in promoting the muscle industry over the years from the turn of the
century to the economic disaster- depression of the 1930s.
In those days, the gyms and health spas were few and far between.
Fortunately, that void was taken care of by the "train by mail" instructors.
They advertised in whatever newsstand magazines, newspaper sp that were
available. Physical Culture, the world's foremost publication of its kind,
carried practically every instructor's advertisement. The "ads" were
cleverly projected, worded and inspiring--featuring the magnificent
development of the instructor and his star pupils. Millions in all walks of
life and age were influenced to begin a stronger and healthier lifestyle.
The courses of instruction varied, but the consistency of training for good
results was always stressed. Whatever the apparatus--cable expanders, wall
pulleys, power twisters, leverage apparatus or just plain body resistant
exercises--they all proved to be of value for those trainees who were
enthusiastic and consistent with their training programs--and with further
advanced goals in mind. On completing the course, several of the
recommended progressive weight training with the dumbbells and barbells.
Many of the great physique and strength stars past and present owe their
start to that era of mail- order influence. Very few barbell makers were
around in those earlier days. The famed Milo Barbell Company founded by
Calvert at the turn of the century in Philadelphia was the paramount barbell
company of its time, with the Milo system of progressive weight training
playing a tremendous, major part in the history and development of the Iron
Game over the years to its present worldwide acceptance.
When the Great Depression ended in the late 1930s--with the end of World War
II in the latter 19402--the great mail-order era hit rock bottom, although
Charles Atlas, George F. Jowett, and Joe Bonomo remained at a good economic
level for their survival. And as we approached the 1970s, and the fitness
craze was coming into its own with the developing gym and health spa business
booming all over the country, the mail muscle movement came to its end. The
fitness craze, with thousands of equipment manufacturers, gym chains,
publications, independent gyms and spas, created the multibillion-dollar
fitness industry of today's fitness world. Looking back over those years,
it was the mail-order muscle guys who filled the void for bodybuilding--playing
a major role in paving the reality for what is today.
Those of us, the older ilk, will always remember Anthony Barker, Lionel
Strongfort, Earle E. Liederman, George F. Jowett, Prof. Adrian Schmidt, Joe
Bonomo and of course that famous household name, Charles Atlas, whose ads
were featured around the world.
Even the great Sears and Roebuck's multimillion-dollar catalog business came
to its demise with the building of malls and department store chains around