In composing any list of important people in almost any field, everybody will have his or her own favorites. Also, in weight lifting, body building, physical fitness, aerobics, just to name a few areas, there are so many people who have contributed so much that it is difficult to pare the list down adequately. I have attempted, however, to include people who have repeatedly come to my attention since my first contact with weight training at age 16 in 1961. I have tried to put the emphasis on people who I felt were somewhat pivotal in the areas of weight lifting, body building, aerobics or general physical fitness. I am sure that many readers will have their own favorites.
Eugen Sandow The Non Pareil (1867 – 1925) Born in Germany, Eugen Sandow has often been called “Father of Modern Bodybuilding”. Like Charles Atlas, as a youth, Sandow was a great admirer of Greek and Roman statues depicting athletes and gladiators. Sandow is considered to be a pioneer in bodybuilding because he measured statues to determine exact proportions and then worked to develop his own body parts to match them. In his late teens, while performing in strongman shows, he was spotted and taken on by legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld. His big splash in America was at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His intelligence, natural charm, and cultured appearance combined with his astounding physique and strength made him a star. Women actually paid him money for the privilege of feeling his muscles. For the men, he wrote widely on health, fitness, and bodybuilding. He, like Bernarr Macfadden and Charles Atlas offered a mail order course teaching his students how to achieve health and fitness. He eventually opened a progressive fitness club in London which stood in stark contrast to the dank, dark, and sweaty gyms of the day. Through his personality and innovation, he made exercise and physical fitness popular for a broader audience than had previously been reached.
Bernarr Macfadden (1868 – 1955) Born Bernard Adolphus McFadden in the state of Missouri, Bernarr Macfadden changed his first and last names because he felt that the new names had a greater appearance of strength. This was not the only strange activity of the man who advocated regular fasting, and some very esoteric health practices for the day and whose wife called him a kook. He combined his own personal views of fitness training and health practices into an entity he referred to as “Physical Culture” which became the title of his first magazine. He eventually became a bit of a publishing mogul, but was usually considered to be skirting the edges of reality in his obsessive approach to physical fitness. However, he inspired young men like Charles Atlas and brought the idea of health and fitness as a way of life to a broader portion of the public.