During the middle ages, beauty and aesthetic ideals were more-or-less forgotten. These times were dark and full of illnesses. It appears that bodybuilding did not reappear until the beginning of the 19th century.
The picture to the left is of a group of Russian Strongmen. They seem to be the pioneers of modern bodybuilding. They were weightlifters, wrestlers, Circassians and sometime actors.
(1868-1955) was one of the main people that influenced the United States about physical culture, i.e., bodybuilding and nutritional and health theories, as therefore has been credited with beginning the culture of health and fitness in America. MacFadden was also the predecessor of both Charles Atlas and Jack Lalanne.
He was born in Mill Spring, Missouri and given the name Bernard Adolphus MacFadden. He felt that they were weak names and chose to change them. He chose “Bernarr" because it thought it sounded like the roar of a lion, and that "MacFadden" was a more masculine spelling of his name.
MacFadden had been a weak and sick child and was orphaned. At the age of 11 he was placed on a farm. Due to the wholesome food had ate and the hard work he did he grew to become a strong and fit boy.
At the age of 13, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri and took a desk job and three years later he described himself as a “physical wreck.” To regain his previous health he became a vegetarian, began exercising with dumbbells and walking six miles a day.
It has been reported that in 1899, MacFadden founded the magazine “Physical Culture.” Yet, many say that it was Sandow that started the magazine and later changed the name to “Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture.”
It is quite likely that Sandow is the founder of the magazine since he was the bodybuilder and sex symbol in America, but MacFadden was the publisher of it because he did grow a publishing empire which included Liberty, True Detective, True Story, True Romances, Dream World, Ghost Stories, the once-familiar movie magazine Photoplay, and the tabloid newspaper, The New York Graphic.
In 1903, Bernarr MacFadden started the first edition of “America's Most Perfectly Developed Man.” The winner of the contest would receive a whopping $1,000 dollars.
The average wage at this time was .22 cents an hour and the average worker made anywhere from $200 to $400 a year, so $1,000 was a fortune.
The competition was opened to anyone that wanted to participate. The winner of the first edition was Al Treolar, while Beatrice Marshall won the prize for the best woman who also was awarded $1,000.
The winner of 1921 edition was Angelo Siciliano, better known as Charles Atlas.
(1893-1972), born Angelo Siciliano in Acri, Calabria, Italy. According to Atlas, he had once been a scrawny weakling and he trained himself to change his body to become the most popular muscleman of his day.
A friend of his had once remarked that he looked like the Atlas on top of the hotel on Coney Island. In 1922, he changed his name to Charles Atlas. In 1929, he founded his company, Charles Atlas Ltd, and as of 2015, continues to market a fitness program for the “97-pound weakling.” The company is now owned by Jeffrey C. Hogue.
At the age of 10, Atlas lived in Brooklyn, New York and became a leather worker. He had tried many different ways to transform his body, anywhere from weights to pulley-style resistance to gymnastic-style calisthenics. He claimed that none of them did much for his body. Yet, he was greatly inspired by the renowned strongman Eugene Sandow and Bernarr MacFadden.
Atlas always told the story that one day when he was at the beach, weighting in at a scrawny 97-pounds, a bully kicked sand into his face. He was so humiliated that he joined the YMCA and began experimenting with different types of exercises to the point he became obsessed with strength.
According to one of many similar stories, one day while Atlas was at the zoo watching a lion he thought to himself, “Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers?...And it came over me…He’s been pitting one muscle against another!” His conclusion to that was that lions become strong by pitting muscle against muscle [Isometrics].
In 1921, Bernarr MacFadden dubbed Angelo Siciliano (he had not changed his name yet) as "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man" in a contest that was held in Madison Square Garden, and shortly thereafter he became the Strongman in the Coney Island Circus Side Show.
A year later, while MacFadden was using Siciliano as a model for a short movie entitled “The Road to Health,” he met Dr. Frederick Tilney, a British homeopathic physician that worked for MacFadden. Atlas then wrote a fitness course, “Dynamic Tension,” asking Tilney to edit it for him. He then changed his name to Charles Atlas and went into business.
In the Dynamic Tension course of 1918, it is stated that Atlas was able to do a one-arm overhead press with 236 lbs. In the 1920 edition it stated he could do a one-arm overhead press with 266 lbs.
The "Dynamic Tension" program contained a total of twelve lessons and one perpetual lesson with pictures of how to perform the exercises. His program sold millions and he became face of fitness. Many well-known professional took his course, such as:
- Max Baer, heavyweight boxing champion from 1934 to 1935,
- Joe Louis, heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949, and
- Rocky Marciano, heavyweight boxing champion from 1952 to 1956.
By the late 30's muscle competitions was the new fad. Many of these contests were not of just bodybuilders many of the contestants were boxers, gymnasts and swimmers. Bodybuilding still was not yet considered to be a sport.
Francois Henri "Jack" LaLanne
(1914- 2011). Many remember Lalanne as “the godfather of fitness” and the “first fitness superhero.” Fitness was more-or-less his life and primary goal. He was not only an exercise fanatic, but a nutritional expert and motivational speaker.
He had said that prior to his 15th birthday he was a "sugarholic" and a "junk food junkie." He had behavioral problems too, but after listening to a lecture about the need for good nutrition he changed his life.
Decades before Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons promoted health and fitness, LaLanne was on the road preaching the benefits of proper nutrition, a good diet and health.
In 1936, at the age of 21, he opened a fitness gym in Oakland, California, one of the nation’s first. He also invented numerous exercise machines, such as leg extensions and pulley devices.
He had written and published numerous books about fitness and hosted the “The Jack LaLanne Show” between 1953 and 1985.
|At a Los Angeles gala, hosted by Keith Mirchandani, CEO of Tristar Products, Inc. to benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pays tribute to Jack LaLanne who has inspired countless people to get in shape and lead healthy lifestyles. The new Jack LaLanne Power Juicer Express™ Colors Line, manufactured and sold by Tristar, now includes a teal and white Ovarian Cancer model designed to help raise funds for ovarian cancer research and education|
LaLanne was also seen as one of the powerful bodybuilders of the time, showing how to build lean muscle. Arnold Schwarzenegger once exclaimed "That Jack LaLanne's an animal!" after the 54-year-old LaLanne beat the 21-year-old Schwarzenegger "badly" in an informal contest.
At LaLanne's death, Schwarzenegger gave LaLanne credit for being "an apostle for fitness" by inspiring "billions all over the world to live healthier lives."
Steve Reeves gave thanks to LaLanne promoting health and fitness, it inspired him to build his muscular physique.
Lalanne was inducted to the California Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
At the end of the era a new competition was born, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Not all of the competitors were true bodybuilders and it was obvious that pumping iron gave the player a very distinct advantage. It was first held on July 4, 1939 and the winner was named "America's Best Built Man." In 1940 the name was changed to the Mr. America contest.
"Winning the Mr. America was one of the greatest moments of my life," he noted. "I was totally elated. The trophy was small, but it didn't matter. Fifty years later I'm still getting recognition from that title. Achievement is its own reward!"
(1906-1991), born in Tempe, Arizona. First winner of Mr. America. Goodrich appeared to have been born with a competitive spirt and it was with him till the day he died.
At the age of 12 he was able to outrun anybody and he practiced acrobatics. He won the Arizona state Flyweight Boxing and swimming at the age of 14.
Goodrich was small, a 95-pound-weakling and he sent away for the Charles Atlas course. In four years he weighed in at 185 lbs. of solid muscle. Bodybuilding became his new best friend. He was intrigued by power and strength, plus he wanted it for the other sports he enjoyed, gymnastics, tumbling and football.
He continued to box as well, now a Heavyweight and fought at Madison Square Garden, yet he hadn’t given up the acrobats either. One summer he worked as a trapeze artist, performing acts 100 feet in the air without a net.
Years later he heard Hollywood calling him and at the age of 24 he headed off to become one of the top stuntmen in the business. He worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. He doubled for John Wayne in “Hurricane Express,” he flew through the air for Buster Crabbe in “Tarzan the Fearless, “ and jumped from cars and motorcycles in “Galloping Ghosts.”
In between jobs like this he would go to Crystal Pier in Santa Monica (the original Muscle Beach) to perform acrobatics. While there he met Charlie Schaeffer and they formed an act together which ended up taking them back to New York.
Goodrich played at some of the top music halls there, first just with Charlie and the later with Jack Nelson, the champion ice skater and balancer. During shows he attended the first Mr. New York contest (1939) and while he was in the audience a photographer noticed him and convinced him to enter.
The contest promoter was Strongman Sig Klein (owner of the famous Sig Klein gym and the husband to Grace, Professor Louis Attila’s daughter, the first man to bent press 200 lbs.). Klein lent Goodrich some trunks and put him on stage just as the Tall class competition began. He weighed in at 195 lbs. and stood 5’11” with a body that had the physique that pleased the crowd so he won.
This win qualified him for the Mr. American contest. This being the first contest rules were written as the even took place. The judges looked for symmetrical proportions, posture, general appearance and stage presence. And the judges all felt that Goodrich had it all.
This win really jump-started his career, placing him on covers of Look and Pic magazines and later in the Esquire with Charles Atlas, plus it gave him Hollywood status. It also helped him and Vic Tanny when they set up the first Mr. and Miss USA contest in 1947. This was the first professional bodybuilding show ever.
From 1946 to 1956, Goodrich set up his gym to the stars on the Hollywood Boulevard: “The Goodrich Gym and Health Club.” This was the first glamour gym, with leatherette walls and chrome equipment. Many of the movie stars showed up to lift weights, including shape, including Fess Parker ("Davy Crockett"), Steve Reeves, Bob Mathias and James Arness ("Gun-smoke"). Bert also took 20 pounds off Mario Lanza for his hit movie "The Student Prince."
In the mid-1940s, Joe and Ben Weider, as an alternative to the AAU, founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB). In 1999, the AAU decided to discontinue holding bodybuilding competitions. But in In 2004, the World Bodybuilding & Fitness Association (WBFA) announced that they had acquired the rights to the Mr. America name and would resume running contests under that banner.
John Carroll Grimek
(1910-1998), born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was a son of Slovak immigrants. He was a bodybuilder and weightlifter in the 1930s and 1940s, and had the nicknames "The Monarch of Muscledom" and "The Glow."
Grimek retired from b bodybuilding undefeated. He also represented the United States in weightlifting at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
In 1948, at 38 years of age, Grimek defeated Steve Reeves at the National Amateur Body-Builders' Association (NABBA) Mr. Universe contest in London.
In 1949, he won his last contest, the AAU, again against Reeves, as well as Clarence Ross, George Eiferman, and Armand Tanny.
Even after Grimek retired he continued to do serious training and at still in his 60s he could squat over 400 pounds for repeitions.
He died in York, Pennsylvania and was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 1999.
Read more about the history of bodybuilding in, “Bodybuilders to Mention: 20th to 21st C., Part 2 of 2.”