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A History Of Strength & Muscle (Part 3)

More Muscle Marvels From The Past!

Posted by WelshFitnessFan - May 25th, 2017

Eugene Sandow (Born 1867. Died 1925)

Eugene was born in the town of Kaliningrad, now part of the Russian Federation (but then it was part of Prussia), to a German mother and a Russian father (which considering the closeness of the two countries is not that surprising). Although his family were Lutherans (followers of the teachings of Martin Luther and his ninety-five theses), his parents were Jewish and as his family wanted him to become a minister in the Lutheran faith, that led to a great deal of strife in the family. One of the main tenements of the faith is that they will not harm another human, therefore when the Prussian army came a calling in 1885, he decided to leave his homeland and travelled throughout Europe becoming a circus athlete and adopting the stage name “Eugene Sandow”. Whilst travelling in Belgium, he visited the gym of a fellow strongman, Ludwig Durlacher, better known under his stage name "Professor Attila" who was very impressed with Eugene and took him on board as an apprentice and in 1889 encouraged him to enter a strongman contest in London. Eugene won, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Florenz Ziegfeld wanted to display Sandow at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago but Ziegfeld knew that Maurice Grau had Sandow under a contract. Grau wanted $1,000 a week to let Eugene go, but Ziegfeld could not afford that and the two agreed to ten percent of the gross earnings. Ziegfeld found that the audience was more fascinated by Sandow's bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was lifting, so Ziegfeld had Sandow move in poses which he dubbed "muscle display performances" and from that moment on, Sandow became a legend and soon was not only lifting barbells, but breaking chains with his chest. This attracted the attention of a certain Thomas Edison and so in 1894, Sandow was filmed for the Edison Studios in a production entitled “A demonstration of physical culture and its effects on the human body!” and boy, did that break the box office. Sadly, as anyone will tell you, all this posing and training was having an effect on Eugene and in 1895, he retired from the stage due to stress and ill health, but once he had recovered, he was back on his feet again.

In 1898, he founded a monthly publication called simply “Physical Culture” which was renamed a few months later as “Sandow's Magazine of Physical Culture” which in turn spawned a series of books on the topic that were published until 1904. In 1901, Sandow organised the world’s first bodybuilding contest, with Sir Charles Lawes the sculptor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the author, and Sandow himself as the judging panel. In 1909, he provided training for would-be recruits to the Territorial Army, to bring them up to entrance fitness standards, and did the same for volunteers for active service in World War I and in 1911, King George V of England announced him “Special Instructor of Physical Culture to His Majesty, the King”.

In 1925, Sandow died from what was officially recorded as an “aortic aneurysm” which, it was suggested, was brought on by straining himself, without assistance, to lift his car out of a ditch after a road accident in either 1921 or 1922. However, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography claimed that the event may have been a result of syphilis. He was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery without any headstone at the request of his wife, but in 2002 Thomas Manley erected a gravestone which reads “Eugene Sandow, 1867–1925 the Father of Bodybuilding”. In 2008, Chris Davies, Eugene’s great great grandson purchased the grave and replaced the gravestone with a one-and-a-half-ton pink monolith on which is simply inscribed “SANDOW” and is a reference to the ancient Greek funerary monuments called steles.

William Bankier (Born 1870. Died 1949)

William was the eldest of four sons born to William (yes, he was named after his father) and Mary Ann, who were weavers in Banffshire in the north east of Scotland. As a child he was fascinated with the circus and in 1882, ran away from home to join one where he became a laborer. His father soon found out where he was and brought him back, but the next year he did it again, this time to sea joining a ship’s crew and ended up being shipwrecked in Montreal! In 1884, he joined Porgie O'Brien's Road Show where one of the acts was a strongman and Bankier studied his act and learned his routine. This was very helpful indeed, because their strongman was more often than not slightly on the inebriated side and so in desperation, Porgie put William on in his stead. Even though he was only fifteen years old, he put on very good performance. As the strongman drank more and missed more performances, so Bankier continued to take his place, gradually growing in skill as a performer and strongman. After about a year Bankier left the road show to join William Muldoon's athletic combination which toured the United States promoting athletic events; Muldoon billed him as 'Carl Clyndon, the Canadian Strong Boy', and Bankier added wrestling to his act. Leaving Muldoon he next joined Jack Kilrain, a former heavy weight boxing champion and from whom he learned to box.

In 1887, he really hit the big time when he joined “Buffalo” Bill Cody’s “Wild West Show”, which had been touring globally for some time. That exposure led him to join Ginnett’s Circus, then Bostock’s circus where he wowed audiences with a feat that really does stretch the imagination. He lifted, via a harness, a thirty-two hundredweight (3200lbs) elephant, balancing on the back of two chairs, all whilst raising a man above his head with his right and, if you can believe it, juggling plates with his left hand, and all before he was aged 20. Now, I know that Scott is strong, having recently filmed himself lifting a 530lb deadlift, but I think even he would have to admit that William’s feat of strength outstrips anything he could do.

By the 1890’s, he’d arrived back in Britain, and it was at this time he was persuaded by Sir John Everett Millais to change his stage name from Carl Clyndon, and as 'Apollo, the Scottish Hercules' he travelled around the world performing to large audiences. During his act he would perform the "Tomb of Hercules", during which he would support a piano with a six-person orchestra and a dancer. He would end his routine by offering £10 to anyone who could carry a large sack weighing 475lbs off the stage. When anyone in the audience had tried and failed Bankier would carry it off himself. Now, as you will have noticed William was around at the same time as Sandow, and in 1900 William issued a challenge to Sandow. He challenged him to a contest in weightlifting, wrestling, running and jumping. When Sandow did not accept his challenge Bankier called him a coward, a charlatan and a liar. This started some rather bad blood between the two of them, as in 1903 Bankier started his own magazine, and in its May 1904 edition appeared a further attack on Sandow, purportedly written by Sandow's one-time opponent 'Cyclops', but clearly actually written by Bankier. It read, "Picture to yourself a good-looking man tripping on the stage with the short pitter-patter of a fussy little woman with sore feet trying to avoid treading on a companion's dress, and forcing herself to look amiable. That is exactly how Sandow walks upon the stage” and cue the raised handbags, as immortalised by the British comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

After retiring from the stage, with Monte Saldo (formerly of The Montague Brothers) he opened the Apollo-Saldo Academy in London, which attracted many of the famous lifters and wrestlers of the day, including George Hackenschmidt, Ferdy Gruhen, Maurice Deriaz, Zbysco, and the winner of over 1,000 contests and Lightweight Wrestling Champion of the World, gold and silver medalist in the 1908 Olympics, London born George de Relwyskow. He also went into wrestling promotion, and among his clients was Yukio Tani, a Japanese jujutsu instructor and professional challenge wrestler. With Tani he founded the British Society of Jiu-Jitsu and in recognition of his turns in the music halls of the time, twice, in 1915 and 1919 he was voted 'King Rat' of the British show business charity the Grand Order of Water Rats. When William died in 1949, he was still involved in the promotion of wrestling and his estate was valued at £15,663 eighteen shillings and tuppence, of which the majority was due to his promotion of the sport.


James Howlett (Born Approx. 1887. Still Living. Written 1974)

Now, the more eagle eyed of you will be thinking “Hang on a second, there is no way that man who is at least 130 years old can be a strongman or endowed with incredible strength, even if he is a fictional character?” and indeed normally that would be the case, but as you will see James is not your typical fictional character.

James was born in Cold Lake, Alberta to John and Elizabeth Howlett, the owners of a vast farm in the province, however he was actually the result of a liaison between Elizabeth and the groundskeeper, Thomas Logan. After Thomas is thrown off the Howletts' property for an attempted rape perpetrated by his other son, named simply Dog, he later returns to the Howlett manor and kills John Howlett. In retaliation, young James kills Thomas with bone claws that emerge from the back of his hands. I can see a lot of people now nodding their heads in understanding why James is on this list and that reason is that James, otherwise known as Logan, becomes the X-Man, Wolverine.

So how strong is Wolverine? Well, he is strong on two levels. Firstly, his physical strength. Even though he’s over 100 years old, he can still lift eight hundred pounds, which is pretty good for even someone half his age, but his real strength comes from his constitution. You see the reason why he can lift 800 pounds is because of what happened to him in the 1960’s. During that decade, he wound up involved in what was codenamed Weapon X, which was basically to make people into the perfect weapon and for Logan, that meant having the alloy Adamantium fused to his skeleton. The majority of you are now thinking “Ouch” and it would have been, if it was not for Logan being an offshoot of humanity with the uncanny knack of healing from pretty much anything, which meant that whilst such a process would kill you and me. For him it meant several weeks of agony, but he survived the process and it’s that base that allows him to lift 800 pounds, with the slight disadvantage that  on occasions he can go a little loopy (although that in all honesty is being a little on the polite side).


Of course there are more famous names from the history of muscle and strength, both fictional and non-fictional, but for now we leave it at Wolverine. And while the feats in this article may not seem realistic to you, it certainly gives us all something special to imagine – that perhaps people of today could still perform acts of such serious strength.

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Well Written @welshfitnessfan I have no Idea the History of Eugene Sandow. Interesting Read!

WelshFitnessFan  Edit  Delete  Close

Thank you very much indeed for those thoughts @time_is_muscle I have often thought that if it was not for Eugene people like @scott_herman wouldn't be famous today