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Philip Astley is known as “The Father of the Modern Circus.” - http://powersuppsandmore.com Philip Ashley is known as “The Father of the Modern Circus." John Holtum Ad - http://powersuppsandmore.com

In 1845, John Holtum, known as the “Cannonball King” (1845-1919) arrived.

Thomas Topham (1702-1749) - http://powersuppsandmore.com Thomas Topham (1702-1749)

Father of Modern Bodybuilding”. - http://powersuppsandmore.com Eugen Sandow is known as “The Father of Modern Bodybuilding”.

Eugen Sandows Dumbbells - http://powersuppsandmore.com Eugen Sandows Dumbbells

Joseph Weider - http://powersuppsandmore.com Joseph Weider (1920-2013) Co-founded the International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB)

Royal Albert Hall - http://powersuppsandmore.com Royal Albert Hall in London where the The Great Competition took place.

(Albert Toof Jenkins) 1873-1960 - http://powersuppsandmore.com (Albert Toof Jenkins) 1873-1960. Named “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World.”

Sandow on Physical Training: A Study in the Perfect Type of the Human Form - Primary Source Edition. - √ Sandow on Physical Training: A Study in the Perfect Type of the Human Form - Primary Source Edition. March 12, 2014 by Eugen Sandow (Author), G. Mercer 1839-1912 Adam (Author)


It is not known for certain when people came up with the concept that it would be a good idea to add muscle to the body.  History tells us that in the United States bodybuilding began around the year 1880. 

We cannot forget about the Strongman of the circus.  When did he begin?  And to perform his acts wouldn’t he have to be a bodybuilder?

The Circus

Philip Astley is known as “The Father of the Modern Circus.”
It appears that the first circus that took place was in the Amphithéâtre Anglois (also known as “Amphithéâtre d'Astley”) in 1782  Paris, France.  His performers included acrobats, rope-dancers, tight-rope walkers, jugglers, trick horse-riders and clowns.  The Strongman had not yet entered the arena.

After a spell in the army Astley opened a riding school in Lambeth where he taught in the morning and performed equestrian tricks in the afternoon. Musical accompaniment was provided by Astley's wife Patty who beat a big drum. They established Astley’s Riding School at the southern end of Westminster Bridge in 1768 and Patty joined Philip in executing tricks on horseback.

In 1845, John Holtum, known as the “Cannonball King” (1845-1919) arrived. 
The first time he tried it he did not do so well, he lost three fingers.  Two years later he had polished his act and he would stand on one side of the stage with nothing but a pair of gloves and a chest pad for protection.  The ball was fired directly at him.  The speed of the cannonball would depend on the size of it and what it was made of, but the slowest it could travel would be 100 miles an hour.

To do what Holtum did would take strength, speed and technique so I can only assume that he worked hard to build lean muscle mass.  

Thomas Topham (1702-1749)
Yet, it is still unknown when the act of bodybuilding took place because we can’t forget about Thomas Topham, who was before even the circus. Topham was one of the most famous Strongmen of the 18th century. His acts included bending thick pokers by striking them against his forearm and being able to lift 224 lbs. overhead with just his fingers.

His most famous act of strength (May 28th 1741) was when Topham lifted three barrels filled with water weighing 1,386 lbs.

Back to Bodybuilding

Eugen Sandow is known as “The Father of Modern Bodybuilding”. 
Sandow had his own circus, but he was the only performer.  People would pay to watch Sandow flaunt his muscular body and perform numerous bodybuilding exercises.

He was born Friederich Wilhelm Mueller in Königsberg, Prussia in 1867, in what is today Kaliningrad, Russia. Sandow, at the age of 19, began performing strongman stunts in various sideshows.

He was initially known for his impressive barbell routines and for breaking a chain locked around his chest. However audiences quickly became far more fascinated by Eugen Sandow's bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was able to lift.  As a result, Sandow developed and performed poses,

He dubbed these displays ‘muscle display performances’ and the routine was a precursor to the bodybuilding competition posses we see today. His routines and physique quickly made Sandow a sensation and a highly sought after carnival attraction.

(Yet, Joe Weider is also known as “The Father of Bodybuilding” - 1919/20(?) -2003).

September 14, 1901, Sandow launched his “The Great Competition,” which today is seen as the world’s first bodybuilding contest. It took place in the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The Great Competition took three years to plan. In July of 1898, the first issue of Sandow’s Magazine announced that the contest would be open to all Sandow students in the United Kingdom.

It was to promote the spread of physical culture and “afford encouragement to those who are anxious to perfect their physiques.” The tempting prizes amounted to 1,000 guineas (well over $5,000 at the time), and the man judged to have the most perfectly developed body would be awarded a magnificent solid gold statuette of Sandow himself, reported worth 500 pounds ($2,500).

The second-place winner would be awarded a solid silver statuette, and the third-place winner would receive one of bronze.

The United States was excited about Sandow’s “The Great Competition” and decided to duplicate it as best they could.  The event took place in Madison Square Garden, December 28th, 1903. 

(Albert Toof Jenkins) 1873-1960
The winner of the event was Al Treloar.  His prize was not money or even a trophy, he was given the

name, “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World.”  It may not seem much, but I’m sure he got a lot of perks. 

Treloar was a Harvard-man, an athlete and a professional Strongman. He could tear three decks of playing cards in half with his bare hands.  In 1904, he wrote “The Science of Muscular Development.”

In 1907, the Los Angeles Athletic Club hired him as the Physical

Director which he did for 42 years.  Today, even in places like the Ukraine, aspiring bodybuilders know that name and want to match him.

To learn more about the beginning of building muscle mass see “Bodybuilders to Mention: Ancient to Twentieth Century, Part 1 of 2.

To learn more about the beginning of the circus see “A Brief History of the Circus.

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